The GOSPEL TRUTH
ATONEMENT IN CHRIST
JOHN MILEY, D.D.
REALITY OF ATONEMENT.
I. WITNESSING FACTS.1. A Message of Salvation.
2. The Salvation in Christ.
3. Salvation in his Suffering.
4. His redeeming Death Necessary.
5. Only Explanation of His Suffering.
6. Necessity of Faith to Salvation.
7. Christ a Unique Saviour.
II. WITNESSING TERMS.1. Atonement.
III. PRIESTHOOD AND SACRIFICE.1. The Priesthood of Christ.
2. His Sacrificial Office.
3. Himself a Sacrifice for Sin.
4. Typical Sacrifices.
5. Priestly Intercession in Heaven.
REALITY OF ATONEMENT.
IN this chapter we treat the atonement simply as a fact, not as a doctrine. The sense in which the vicarious sacrifice of Christ constitutes the objective ground of divine forgiveness is for future discussion.
I. WITNESSING FACTS.
There are certain facts that all should receive as scriptural, however diversely they may be interpreted. We claim for them a decisive testimony to the reality of an atonement for sin in the mediation of Christ.
1. A Message of Salvation.
The Gospel is pre-eminently such a message to a sinful and lost world. Its very style as the Gospel--__ __________--sets it forth as good tidings. It is "the glorious Gospel of the blessed God;" "the Gospel of the grace of God;" "the Gospel of salvation." A free overture of grace in forgiveness and salvation crowns the Gospel of Christ.
2. The Salvation in Christ.
While the great fact of Revelation is the mission of Christ, the great purpose of this mission is the salvation of sinners. The Scriptures ever witness to this purpose, and specially reveal Christ as the Saviour. The Angel of the Annunciation gave charge respecting the coming Messiah and thou shalt call his name Jesus; for he shall save his people from their sins." The announcement of the blessed Advent to the shepherds was in a like strain: "And the angel said unto them, Fear, not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord." Additional texts could only emphasize these explicit utterances of the salvation in Christ. "For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved." "This is, indeed, the Christ, the Saviour of the world." "And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world." These texts, though but a small fraction of a great number, are sufficient for the verification of the fact that the salvation so freely offered in the Gospel is a salvation in Christ.
3. Salvation in his Suffering.
This truth is declared by the very many texts which set forth the mission of Christ as the Saviour of sinners. They are so numerous that their full citation would fill many pages. We may give a few in part. "But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed." This whole chapter is full of the same truth, and clearly anticipates the higher revelation of the New Testament. "Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins." "Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him." "For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit." "And the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin." "Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen." These words, so explicitly attributing our salvation to the vicarious sacrifice of Christ, might well be heard as from the very border-land between the earthly and heavenly estates. Then like words, and equally explicit, come from beyond the border, attributing the salvation of the saints in heaven to the same atoning blood. "These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple." These texts sufficiently verify this third fact as a fact of Scripture, that the salvation so freely offered in the Gospel of Christ is a salvation provided in his suffering and death.
4. His redeeming Death Necessary.
The vicarious sacrifice of Christ was not a primary or absolute necessity, but only as the sufficient ground of forgiveness. And not only is salvation directly ascribed to his blood, but his redeeming death is declared to be necessary to this salvation. "Thus it is written, and thus it behooved 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 among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem." Thus it behooved Christ to suffer, not for the fulfillment of the prophetic Scriptures, but in order to the salvation which, long before his advent, they had foretold as the provision of his vicarious sacrifice. Only on the ground of his suffering and death could there be either the preaching of repentance, or the grace of repentance, or the remission of sins. This was the imperative behoof. "Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved." The emphasis of this text is in the fact that these things are affirmed of the crucified Christ. "For if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain." In the context St. Paul is asserting his own realization of a spiritual life through faith in Christ, who loved him, and gave himself for him. This life in salvation he declares to be impossible by the law, and possible only through the sacrificial death of Christ. Were it otherwise, Christ has died in vain. The necessity for his redeeming death in order to forgiveness and salvation could not be given more explicitly, nor with deeper emphasis. "For if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law." Here is the same truth of necessity. Life is by the redeeming Christ, and has no other possible source.
5. Only Explanation of His Suffering.
The sufferings of Christ were for no sin of his own. Nor were they officially necessary, except as an atonement for sin. He had power to avert them, and endured them only through love to a lost world, and in filial obedience to his Father's will. They were not chosen for their own sake on the part of either, but only in the interest of human salvation. They were a profound sacrifice on the part of both. And while the Son went willingly down into their awful depths, his very nature shrank from them. Three times the prayer of his soul was poured out to his loving Father, "O, my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me." There must have been some profound necessity for his drinking it. Clearly that necessity lay in this--that only thereby could salvation be brought into the world. And these profound sufferings of the redeeming Son witness to the reality of an atonement for sin.
6. Necessity of Faith to Salvation.
The facts already given and verified by the Scriptures are decisive of an atonement for sin in the sufferings and death of Christ. They go beyond its reality and conclude its necessity. It is also a significant fact, and one bearing on the same point, that faith in Christ, and as the redeeming Christ, is the true and necessary condition of forgiveness and salvation. The application is to those who have the Gospel. This condition cannot be required of those who have not the Gospel. We doubt not the possibility of their salvation: but their only salvation is in Christ; and for them God has his own method in his own wisdom and grace. Their case, however, has nothing to do with the requirement of faith on the part of all who have the Gospel. And the fact of this requirement will answer for the proof of an atonement in the sacrifice of Christ.
Generally, faith in Christ, with the associated idea of his redeeming death, is set forth as the true and necessary condition of salvation. Proof-texts are numerous and familiar. We may instance the great commission: "And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature. He that believeth, and is baptized, shall be saved; but he that believeth not, shall be damned." As Christ laid this solemn charge upon his ministers to preach the Gospel in all the world, and which should be so especially the preaching of himself crucified, it was very proper and profoundly important that he should distinctly set forth the condition of the great salvation so proclaimed. This he did in the most explicit terms. Faith in Christ is the condition so clearly given. This is the imperative requirement. And the Lord emphasizes the fact by declaring the different consequences of believing and not believing. Were this the only proof-text, it would conclude the fact of faith in Christ as the true and necessary condition of forgiveness and salvation.
We may add another in this general view. "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life." As the Israelites, bitten by the fiery serpents and ready to perish, were recovered only in looking upon the brazen serpent which Moses lifted up in the midst of the camp; so is our salvation conditioned on our faith in Christ lifted up upon the cross as a sacrifice for sin.
Yet more directly is this fact given. "Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; to declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus." Here the forgiveness of sin is through the propitiatory blood of Christ as its ground, and on faith therein as its condition. Such is the economy of redemption, whereby the divine righteousness is vindicated in the justification of sinners.
Faith could not be so required were not the blood of Christ a true and necessary atonement for sin. Were repentance a sufficient ground of forgiveness, it would still be necessary to believe certain religious truths for the sake of their practical force. Only thus could there be a true repentance. But such is not the faith on which we are justified. There is a clear distinction of offices in the two cases. The faith necessary to repentance is operative through the practical force of the religious truths which it apprehends; but the justifying faith apprehends the blood of Christ as a propitiation for sin, trusts directly therein, and receives forgiveness as the immediate gift of grace. No other view will interpret the Scriptures, which most explicitly give us the truth of justification by faith in Christ. The justification is in the forgiveness of sin, and must be, as it is the justification of sinners. And the direct and necessary connection of justification with faith in the redemption of Christ, together with the immediateness of the forgiveness itself, concludes this distinct office of justifying faith. Hence, to confound such a faith with another faith in Christ as salutary simply through the practical force of spiritual truths and motives so apprehended, is to jumble things egregiously.
There is such a practical faith in Christ, and of the highest moral potency. It may precede or follow the justifying faith. It apprehends the great practical lessons embodied in the Gospel of Christ. Their apprehension in faith is the necessary condition of their practical force. The soul thus opens to their moral motives, and realizes their practical influence. This is the philosophy of a chief element of the practical power of faith. It gives the law of moral potency in all practical appeals in view of the love of God and the sacrifice of Christ in the redemptive mediation.
Such is the only office of faith in the scheme of Moral influence. We fully accept the fact of a great practical lesson in the mediation of Christ; and our own doctrine combines the weightiest elements of its potency. But we object to the accounting this moral lesson, however valuable, an element of the atonement proper most of all, the very atonement itself. This is the error of the theory of Moral influence. It is all the same when the advocate is in the fellowship of ecclesiastic orthodoxy. Dr. Bushnell, in his first monograph on atonement, is an instance. We have another in Frederick Denison Maurice: "Every deed of love to those tormented with plagues and sicknesses, every parable to the multitude, every discourse with his disciples, was letting his light shine before men, that they, seeing his good works, might glorify his Father in heaven. That was the work which he came to do, and which he finished when he gave up the ghost." Thus the sacrifice of Christ fulfills its atoning office through the practical force of a moral lesson. By the principles and references of the author, given with his own italicising, the sermon on the mount, the miracles, teachings, charities of Christ, go into his atonement for sin, in the same manner as his sacrifice upon the cross. It follows, that Christians, through the light of their good works, are atoning for sin by the same means, and the only means, whereby Christ himself atoned for it. Surely these facts are enough for the refutation of the scheme.
But our special objection to this view here is, that it denies a distinct office of faith in the propitiatory work of Christ as the condition of forgiveness in justification. It consistently and necessarily does this. But there is such an office of faith, and one clearly distinguished from its office as a practical force in the religious life. And the distinct requirement of faith in the propitiatory sacrifice of Christ, in order to forgiveness, is conclusive of a true and necessary atonement for sin in his sufferings and death.
7. Christ a Unique Saviour.
Christ is a person in history; but his history is unique, and his character and work unique. Often designated the Son of man, he yet cannot be classed with men. No law of science or philosophy would warrant or even permit such a classification. In the fashion of a man, he is yet above men. The facts of his life constitute a new history, distinct and different from all others. They reveal a personal consciousness alone in its kind. A manifest fact of this consciousness is the profound sense of a divine vocation, original and singular in the moral history of the world, and which he only can fulfill. The moral impression of his life upon the souls of men is peculiar to itself, and fitly responsive to the originality of his own character and work. Amid men and angels, he stands apart in his own personality and mission.
His religion is unique. It is such because he, as a religious founder, is original and singular. Here, also, he cannot be classed with others in any exact scientific sense. Every religion is, more or less, what its founder is. His thoughts and feelings are wrought into it. It takes its molding from the cast of his mind. Its aims and forces are the outgoing of his own subjective life. Most eminently has Christ wrought his own soul and life into his own religion. In the highest sense, its aims and forces are the outgoing of his own mind: so much so, that to come into the same mind with him is the highest realization of the Christian life. What he is his religion is. But his distinctive peculiarity, as the founder of a religion, is not so much in the higher measure of his own life wrought into it, as in the quality of that life. Hence his religion differs so much from all others, because he differs so much from all other religious founders.
His religion is unique as one of salvation. And it is not only the fact of a salvation, but especially the distinctive character of it, that constitutes the peculiarity. It is a salvation in forgiveness of sin, and in moral regeneration. So it is realized in the gracious experience of many souls. And this salvation comes not as the fruit of culture, nor in reward of personal merit, nor as the purchase of penance or treasure. A religion grounded in such profound truths respecting God and man, and especially respecting man's moral state and spiritual destiny and needs, never could offer such a salvation on such conditions. The means have no sufficiency for the end. This salvation is provided for and possible only in the grace and spiritual agencies of a redemptive economy. Here sin is taken away, and the soul renewed. There is a new life in Christ. In this life is salvation--such a salvation as no other religion provides.
Most of all, is Christ a unique Saviour in that he saves us by the sacrifice of himself. The salvation is not in his divinity, nor in his humanity, nor in his unique personality as the God-man, nor in the lessons of religion which he taught, nor in the perfect life which he lived and gave to the world as an example, nor in the love wherewith he loved us, nor in all the moral force of life, and lesson, and love combined, but in his cross--in the blood of his cross as an atonement for sin. The voice of revelation is one voice, ever distinct, unvarying, and emphatic, in the utterance of this truth. This utterance comes forth of all the facts and words which reveal the distinctively saving work of Christ. They need no citation here. A few have already been given. Others will appear in their proper place. For the present, the position need only be stated and emphasized: Christ is a Saviour through an atonement in his blood as the ground of forgiveness. He is such a Saviour singularly, uniquely. The fact is too clear and certain for denial. No one familiar with the Scriptures, and frank in his spiritual mood, can question it.
This is a cardinal fact, and one not to be overlooked in the interpretation of the redeeming work of Christ. No other has ever claimed to put his own life and blood into the saving sufficiency and efficiency of his religion. No other is, or can be, such a Saviour as Christ. If a Saviour only through a moral influence, good men are saviours as truly as he, and in the same mode, differing only in the measure of their influence. Can such a theory interpret the Scriptures, or find a response in the highest, best form of the Christian consciousness? Who is there in all the Christian ages whom we can regard as a saviour in the same sense as Christ, and differing only in the measure of his saving influence? As revealed in the Scriptures, and apprehended in the living faith of the Church, and realized in the truest Christian experience, Christ is the only Saviour. And he is a Saviour only through an atonement in his blood. This is his highest distinction as a Saviour, and one that places him apart from all others. Any scheme of Christianity contrary to this view is false to the Scriptures, false to the soteriology of the Gospel, false to the living religious faith and consciousness of the Christian centuries. And unless we can surrender all essentially distinctive character in the saving work of Christ, and so do violence to all decisive facts in the case, we must maintain a true atonement in his death as the only and necessary ground of forgiveness and salvation.
II. WITNESSING TERMS.
Advocates of an objective atonement in Christ, while differing on the doctrine, are quite agreed on the Scripture proofs of the fact. Their interpretations are much the same, except where they go beyond the reality of an atonement and press their respective doctrinal views into the exposition. It is in the order of a better method to keep, as far as practicable, to one question at a time. This we shall endeavor to do in treating the leading terms for the fact of atonement. The doctrine which they contain will still be held for future discussion.
A full treatment of these terms for the purpose in hand would require a volume. The discussion has often been elaborately gone over, and very conclusively for the fact of an atonement. There is, therefore, the less occasion to repeat it. Any one interested in the question will readily find its full and able treatment in the standard works on systematic theology, and in treatises exclusively on the atonement.
This discussion has no prescriptive method. Some deal with individual texts; some follow the order of the sacred writers, treating successively what each one gives on the question; others proceed in an order of the more specific terms of atonement, grouping under these severally the facts and texts which properly belong to them. We shall follow this method as the best, and as specially suited to the brief discussion which we propose.
This term is of frequent use in the Old Testament, but occurs only once in the New. The original, ___, signifies to cover; then to cover sin, to forgive sin, to discharge from punishment: in its noun form, an expiation, a propitiation, a redemption.
In its primary meaning the term has no proper sense of atonement. It has such a sense in its appropriated use.. Its meaning, as in the history of many other terms, is broadened in its use. A rigid adherence in such a case to the primary sense is false to the deeper ideas conveyed.
Atonement, as expressed by this term, was often for the removal of ceremonial impurities, or in order to a proper qualification for sacred services. It has this sense in application to both things and persons. We have not yet, however, the full sense, but a foreshadowing of its deeper meaning.
In the more strictly moral and legal relations of the term, we may admit a lower and a higher sense, and without any concession to those who, on the ground of the former, would exclude the latter. In many instances atonement was made for what are designated as sins of ignorance. It may not be rightfully assumed that these sins were without amenability in justice and law. The contrary is apparent. "The ignorance intended cannot have been of a nature absolute and invincible, but such as the clear promulgation of their law, and their strict obligation to study it day and night, rendered them accountable for, and which was consequently in a certain degree culpable." Nor does it follow that there is no true sense of atonement because such sins have not the deepest criminality.
But were such instances without culpability, and therefore without evidence of an atonement, the fact would not affect the instances of atonement for sins of the deepest responsibility. There are such instances. And to put the lower sense upon examples of the higher; most of all, to deny the higher because there is a lower, is without law in Scripture exegesis.
In the higher moral and legal relations of atonement there are the facts of sin and judicial condemnation. The offender is answerable in penalty. Then there is a vicarious sacrifice, and the forgiveness of the sinner. There is an atonement for sin. The fact is clear in the Scripture texts given by reference. Others, equally conclusive, will be given in another connection.
There are in the use of the term instances of atonement without any sacrifice. Moses, by an intercessory prayer, made an atonement for Israel after the sin of idolatry in worshiping the golden calf. Aaron, with his censer, atoned for the congregation after the rebellion of Korah. Phinehas, by his religious zeal, made an atonement for the people, and turned away from them the divine wrath.
In view of such facts, it is urged that there is no direct and necessary connection between sacrifices of atonement and the divine forgiveness, and hence, that there is no proof in the sacrificial system of an atonement for sin in the sacrifice of Christ. This is inconsequent. The sacrifices of the law were an atonement only typically, not intrinsically. While, therefore, certain kinds might have special fitness for this service, yet mere typical fitness has nothing essential. Hence these sacrifices of atonement might be varied or even omitted, while the atonement in the sacrifice of Christ, as intrinsically such, is both real and necessary. The proof of atonement from the sacrificial system will be treated in connection with the priesthood and sacrifice of Christ.
We get the proof of an atonement in Christ, not so much from the direct application of the original term to him as from certain significant types fulfilled in him, and especially from the application of equivalent terms in the Greek of the New Testament to his redemptive mediation.
We may give one instance in which the original term is applied to the atoning sacrifice of Christ. The passage referred to is clearly Messianic. It determines by historic connections the time of Christ's advent. Then it gives certain ends to be accomplished: "to make an end of sins "--to terminate the typical sacrifices of the law by the one sufficient sacrifice of himself; "and to make reconciliation -- _____ -- for iniquity." The passage clearly shows that Christ makes an atonement for sin by the sacrifice of himself. And this sense is emphasized in the further fact, that "Messiah shall be cut off, but not for himself," especially as viewed in the light of intimately related facts and utterances of the Gospel.
As previously noted, the term atonement occurs but once in the English version of the New Testament, and then as the rendering of _________, usually rendered reconciliation. The text, therefore, properly belongs to this term.
Reconciliation, and to reconcile -- _________, ____________ -- are terms frequently applied to the redemptive work of Christ, and with the clear sense of a real atonement.
"For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life." This is the reconciliation of enemies, and, therefore, of persons under God's displeasure and judicial condemnation. The reconciliation is by the death of his Son. The assurance of salvation lies in the fact of such a reconciliation of enemies. The divine acceptance in favor comes after this reconciliation as its provisory ground. The death of Christ renders forgiveness consistent with the requirements of justice in moral administration. Such a reconciliation is the reality of atonement. With such a fact St. Paul might well add: "And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received -- ___ __________ -- the reconciliation." Here is the joy of an actual reconciliation through the death of Christ.
"And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation," etc. The facts of this text give the sense of a real atonement. The reconciliation is in Christ. It includes a non-imputation of sin; that is, we are no longer held in absolute condemnation, but have the gracious privilege of the divine forgiveness and friendship. Hence there is committed to us the ministry of reconciliation, with its gracious overtures and entreaties. And the manner in which God reconciles us to himself in Christ is deeply emphasized: "For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him." Any fair exposition of this text must find in it the fact of an atonement.
It is urged in objection, that in these texts we are said to be reconciled to God, not God to us. The fact is admitted, while the validity of the objection is denied. It falsely assumes that the only bar to God's friendship with his rebellious subjects is in their hostility to him; and hence illogically concludes that the reconciliation in Christ is an atonement, not as a rectoral ground of the divine forgiveness, but simply as a moral influence leading them to repentance and loyalty. This is contradicted by many principles and facts previously discussed. It is contrary to those texts according to which God, by the reconciliation in Christ, puts himself into a relation of mercy toward us, and then, on the ground of this reconciliation, urges and entreats us in penitence and faith to accept his offered forgiveness and love. Thus upon the ground of a provisory divine reconciliation there will follow an actual reconciliation and a mutual friendship.
Further, this objection falsely assumes that reconciliation is simply the cessation of hostility in the party said to be reconciled. It properly means, and often can only mean, that he is reconciled in the sense of finding the forgiveness and friendship of the party to whom he is reconciled. Of this there are familiar instances in Scripture. As applied to rebellious subjects, the term has its first relation to the ruler. "To be reconciled, when spoken of subjects who have been in rebellion against their sovereign, is to be brought into a state in which pardon is offered to them, and they have it in their power to render themselves capable of that pardon; namely, by laying down their enmity. . . . Wherefore, the reconciliation received through Christ is God's placing all mankind, ever since the fall, under the gracious new covenant procured for them through the obedience of Christ; in which the pardon of sin is offered to them, together with eternal life, on their fulfilling its gracious requisitions." This is an accurate statement of the reconciliation in Christ, and gives us the fact of an atonement therein.
To be propitious is to be disposed to forgiveness and favor. To propitiate is to render an aggrieved or offended party clement and forgiving. A propitiation is that whereby the favorable change is wrought. Hence the mediation or blood of Christ as a propitiation for our sins, and the ground of forgiveness, is an atonement. It is an atonement because a propitiation for sin in its relation to the clemency and forgiveness of the divine Ruler.
There are two points to be specially noticed: the nature of the divine propitiousness toward sinners; and the relation of the redemptive mediation of Christ to that propitiousness.
God is propitious to sinners in a disposition toward forgiveness. This is in the definition of the term. The same sense is given in Scripture, without any direct reference to a propitiatory sacrifice. The fact will render the clearer the propitiatory office of the blood of Christ. We will cite a few texts in illustration; but for a clearer view of the sense stated, the original terms -- appropriate forms of ___, ___, _________ -- should be consulted, as the term propitious, or to be propitious, is not given in our translation. "For thy name's sake, O Lord, pardon mine iniquity; for it is great." "But he, being full of compassion, forgave their iniquity, and destroyed them not: yea, many a time turned he his anger away, and did not stir up all his wrath." "O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive." "God be merciful to me a sinner." "For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more."
These texts, selected from many similar ones, suffice for the position that God is propitious in a disposition toward forgiveness, and in the fact of forgiveness as the exercise of such clemency. Here are sins, and the divine displeasure against them. Here are sinners with a deep sense of sin, and of the divine condemnation. Here are their earnest prayers to God, that he would be propitious and forgive. And he forgives them, turns away his wrath and accepts them in favor, as he is propitious to them.
These facts determine the meaning of a propitiation. It is that which renders an aggrieved or offended party clement and forgiving; that which is the reason or ground of forgiveness. Such a propitiation is an atonement.
Christ is a propitiation for sin. He is such in his sacrificial death, and in relation to the divine clemency and forgiveness. "Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past." Here are all the facts of a true propitiation: the presupposed sins as an offense against God, and his displeasure against them; the blood of Christ as a propitiation for sins; the divine clemency and forgiveness through this propitiation. The blood of Christ fulfills its propitiatory office with God. There is, therefore, an atonement in his blood. Other Scripture texts give the same truth. "And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world." "Herein is, love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins." Such a propitiation for sin is the reality of an atonement in Christ.
Under this term might be classed many texts which, with the utmost certainty, give us the fact of an atonement.
Redemption has a clear and well defined sense. To redeem is to purchase back, to ransom, to liberate from slavery, captivity, or death, by the payment of a price. This gives the sense of redemption or to redeem -- ______ -- in both its classic and Scripture use.
Under the Mosaic law, alienated lands might be recovered by the payment of a ransom or price. This would be a redemption. Such alienated property, if not previously ransomed, reverted without price at the jubilee; but this reversion was not a redemption, because without any ransom-price. A poor Israelite might redeem himself from slavery by the payment of a sum reckoned according to the time remaining for which he had sold himself. This would be his redemption. But the freedom which came with the jubilee was not a redemption, because it came without any price. These facts confirm the sense of redemption as previously given. Further, in the case of one who has forfeited his life: "If there be laid on him a sum of money, then he shall give for the ransom of his life whatever is laid upon him." This is an instance of redemption. The same meaning lies in the fact, that for the life of a murderer no ransom was permitted.
Occasional applications of the term simply in the sense of a deliverance, are not contrary to the truer and deeper meaning. There is a deliverance as the result of a redemption. The ransom is paid in order to the deliverance. And it is a proper usage to apply the name of a thing to its effect, or to what constitutes only a part of its meaning. This use is entirely consistent with the deeper sense of redemption, while the deeper sense cannot be reduced to that of a mere deliverance. This is true of the instances previously given, and will be found true of the redemption in Christ.
We shall here select but a few of the many texts which apply the terms of redemption to the saving work of Christ.
"The Son of man came to give his life a ransom for many." "Who gave himself a ransom for all." The original terms -- ______, __________ -- are the very terms which signify the ransom or price given for the liberation of a captive, the recovery of any thing forfeited, or the satisfaction of penal obligation. So, for our deliverance from sin and death, and for the recovery of our forfeited spiritual life, Christ gives his life -- himself -- as the ransom. Redemption in its deeper sense could not have a clearer expression. Truly are we "bought with a price;" "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." As in other cases silver and gold constituted the ransom, so the blood of Christ is the price of our redemption from sin.
"Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity;" "And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance." Here are facts of redemption which give us a real atonement. We are sinners, with the penal liabilities of sin; and Christ gives his own life as the price of our ransom.
"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;" "But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law,--to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons." In the second text we have a different original word -- _________ -- but of like meaning. The subjects of the redemption are under the law, and under the curse of the law--the former state implying all that the latter expresses. Whether "the law" be the law of nature or the Mosaic, the facts of redemption are the same. Under both men are sinners, and by neither is there salvation. The redemption is from the penalty of sin--from the curse of the law. The same sense is determined by the fact, that the redemption is to the end, "that we might receive the adoption of sons." The death of Christ upon the cross is the redemption.
"Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus." "In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace." Here we have the same facts of redemption. We are sinners and under divine condemnation. The redemption through Christ, and in his blood, is in order to our justification, or the forgiveness of our sins.
Such are the facts of redemption by Jesus Christ. And with the sin and condemnation of men as its subjects, with the forgiveness and salvation which it provides, with the blood of Christ as the ransom whereby the gracious change is wrought, it is unreasonable to deny the fact of an atonement in his redeeming death.
Every one feels the effect of introducing the nouns ______ or __________, in connection with the verb ___, when applied to the case of a discharged debtor or released captive, as making it perfectly clear that his redemption is not gratuitous, but that some consideration is given for the securing it. Nor is the significancy of these nouns in the least diminished when it is from penal consequences of a judicial nature that a person is released. The ______, indeed, in that case, is not a price from which the lawgiver is to receive any personal advantage. It is the satisfaction to public law and justice upon which he consents to remit the sentence. But still, the mention of it, in this case as well as in others, is absolutely inconsistent with a gratuitous remission. This statement holds true, with all the force of its facts, in application, as intended, to the redemption in Christ. The deeper ideas of redemption were wrought into the minds of the writers of the New Testament by both their Hebraic and Hellenic education. Nor may we think that they used its terms out of their proper meaning in applying them to the saving work of Christ. Such a redemption is the reality of atonement.
Redemption holds a prominent place in the nomenclature of atonement; indeed, is often used for the designative term instead of atonement itself. It may be pressed into the service of an erroneous doctrine. The result is a commercial atonement. But this is carrying the analogy in the case to an unwarranted extreme. Redemption is modified by the sphere in which it is made. The ransom price of a captive, or slave, goes to the personal benefit of the party making the surrender; it is his compensation. The transaction is one of barter. When a penalty of death was commuted for a sum of money, the ransom was penal and of rectoral service, but also of pecuniary value with the government. In the divine government there can be no such element of redemption. The redemption does not thereby lose the sense of an atonement, but should, therefore, be guarded against an erroneous doctrine. The gist of analogy is in the fact of a compensatory ransom. This is consistent with a wide distinction in the nature of the compensation. There is a wide distinction in fact: in the one case a personal, pecuniary compensation; in the other, a compensation in rectoral value. In the one case money redeems a captive, or slave, as a commercial equivalent; in the other, the blood of Christ redeems a soul as the rectoral equivalent of penalty. The ransom price is as vitally related to the result in the latter case as in the former. This gives us the reality of an atonement in the redemption of Christ, and will give us a doctrine without any commercial element.
Substitution is not formally a Scripture term, but well expresses the sense of numerous texts in their application to the saving work of Christ. Like the term "redemption," it may be pressed into the service of an erroneous doctrine. This, however, can be done only by a wrong interpretation of the substitution. But we are still only on the fact of an atonement, and, for the proof of this, here require nothing more than the substitution of Christ in suffering as the ground of forgiveness.
The fifty-third chapter of Isaiah is clearly Messianic, and as clearly gives the fact of substitutional atonement. We shall attempt no elaborate or critical exposition. This has often been done, and successfully for the sense of a real atonement. We cite the leading utterances: "But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. . . . The Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. . . . He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter. . . . For the transgression of my people was he stricken. ... Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin.... And he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors." These words are decisive of a substitutional atonement in the sufferings of Christ.
"For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." Surely here is atonement in substitution. Those for whom Christ died are noted as ungodly, sinners, enemies. Hence they are in a state of condemnation. In the death of Christ for them is the ground of their justification, which is impossible by the deeds of the law. These facts give us atonement by substitution. This sense is confirmed by the suppositive case of one dying for another. It is a supposition of the substitution of one life for another, the rescue of one by the vicarious sacrifice of another. So Christ died for us as sinners, and in order to our forgiveness and salvation. It is a, substitution in law; not penal, but rectoral, so that law might fulfill its office in the interest of moral government. This is vicarious atonement.
"Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed." Here is a clear reference to the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah, and also the same sense of atonement by substitution.
"For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God." Our sins separate us from God, and bring us under his condemnation. There can be reconciliation and fellowship only through forgiveness. Christ provides for this by suffering for our sins in our stead--the just for the unjust. This is the reality of atonement by substitution in suffering.
III. PRIESTHOOD AND SACRIFICE.
1. The Priesthood of Christ.
His priesthood has its prophetic utterance: "The Lord hath sworn, and will not repent, Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek." The fullest unfolding of his priesthood, with its sacrificial and intercessory offices, is in the Epistle to the Hebrews. "Wherefore in all things it behooved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high-priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people." "Seeing then that we have a great high. priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession." "Now of the things which we have spoken this is the sum: We have such a high-priest, who is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens." These texts will suffice for what is really placed beyond question.
2. His Sacrificial Office.
As it was an office of the priesthood, under the law, to offer sacrifices in atonement for sin, so Christ as our high-priest must offer a sacrifice for sin. This is not a mere inference, but the word of Scripture: "For every high-priest is ordained to offer gifts and sacrifices: wherefore it is of necessity that this man have somewhat also to offer."
3. Himself a Sacrifice for Sin.
Nor are we left in any doubt respecting His sacrifice. He offers up Himself. The fact is so often stated, and in such terms, as to give it the profoundest significance. "Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savor." "Who needeth not daily, as those high-priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins, and then for the people's. for this he did once, when he offered up himself." "How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?" "Nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high-priest entereth into the holy place every year with the blood of others; for then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself."
No critical exegesis is required to find in these texts the fact of an atonement in the mediation of Christ. It lies upon their face, and enters into their deepest life. He is a sacrifice, self-offered, in atonement for sin; a sacrifice offered to God in such atonement, that we might be forgiven and saved. The sufficiency of this one sacrifice, asserted with such emphasis, affirms the fact of an atonement.
4. Typical Sacrifices.
In the statements respecting the sacrifice of Christ there are clear references to the ancient sacrifices; and its interpretation in the light of these references gives us the same fact of an atonement. But we shall not discuss this system; and a brief reference will answer for our purpose.
The great annual atonement has special prominence. Its many rites, divinely prescribed with exactness of detail, were sacredly observed. Its leading facts were few and simple, but of profound significance. The high-priest sacrificed a bullock in atonement for himself and family, and, entering with its blood into the holy of holies, sprinkled it upon the mercy-seat. Thus he found access into the divine presence. Then he selected two goats for an atonement for the people, One he sacrificed, and entering with its blood into the most holy place, sprinkled it upon the mercy-seat before the Lord. Then with his hands upon the head of the other, he confessed over it the sins of the people, and sent it away into the wilderness, thus signifying the bearing away of their sins. Thus the high-priest made an atonement for sin.
The whole idea of atonement may here be denied on an assumption that the means have no adequacy to the end; that it is not in the nature of such a ceremony or such a sacrifice to constitute a ground of forgiveness. It is conceded that there is therein no intrinsic atonement. This, indeed, is the Scripture view. But the idea of atonement is not, therefore, wanting. The divine reconciliation is real, the forgiveness of sin actual, but on the ground of the vicarious sacrifice of Christ--"the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world." His atonement was not yet formally made, but already existed as a provision of the redemptive economy, and efficacious for salvation. And the idea of atonement is as real in the typical sacrifice as in that which is intrinsically sufficient. Otherwise, the Levitical atonement has no typical office, and hence is utterly inexplicable.
We have thus the idea of atonement in the Levitical sacrifices, and the fact of a real atonement in the sacrifice of Christ. The former were substitutes for men in atonement for sin--typically, not efficaciously; while the latter, represented by them, and the ground of their acceptance, is intrinsically the atonement. As divinely appointed in their sacrificial office, and typical therein of the priestly sacrifice of Christ, they give decisive testimony to the fact of an atonement in his death.
That the Levitical sacrifices of atonement, particularly in the great annual atonement, were typical of the atoning sacrifice of Christ, is clearly given in the Scriptures. And combining type and antitype, with their characteristic facts, in one view, the proof of a real atonement is conclusive. Respecting the former, "Shall we content ourselves with merely saying that this was a symbol; but the question remains, of what was it a symbol? To determine that, let the several parts of the symbolic action be enumerated. Here is confession of sin--confession before God, at the door of his tabernacle -- the substitution of a victim -- the figurative transfer of sins to that victim--the shedding of blood, which God appointed to make atonement for the soul --the carrying the blood into the holiest place, the very permission of which clearly marked the divine acceptance--the bearing away of iniquity--and the actual reconciliation of the people to God. If, then, this is symbolical, it has nothing correspondent to it; it never had or can have any thing correspondent to it but the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ, and the communication of the benefits of his passion in the forgiveness of sins to those that believe in him, and their reconciliation with God."
5. Priestly Intercession in Heaven.
The intercession of Christ in a priestly office fulfilled in heaven, is a fact clearly given in the Scriptures: "Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us." "Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us." "For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us."
Now mere intercession does not prove atonement; but such intercession does. It is in the order of the priestly office of Christ. This is clear from the texts cited, especially with their connections. It follows the atoning sacrifice of himself, and with clear reference to the service of the Levitical atonement. As the high-priest entered with the blood of the sacrifice into the most holy place, and sprinkled it upon the mercy-seat, the very place of the divine presence and propitiation; so Christ entered with his own blood--not literally with it, but with its atoning virtue and the tokens of his sacrifice--into heaven itself, into the very presence of God, in the office of intercession. Such an intercession, the very pleas of which are in his vicarious sacrifice and blood, affirms the reality of atonement.
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