<< PARADOX X: The Atonement: Man Reconciles to God >>
I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake,
and will not remember thy sins.–Isaiah xliii, 25.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son,
that whosoever believeth in him should not perish,
but have everlasting life.
THERE two texts open to us two important features of the great doctrine of the atonement. It will be in the recollection of many of my beloved auditory, that on Sunday last, we endeavored to understand that the glorious God we worship, and whom it is the highest blessing to know, is really the triune God in the Lord Jesus Christ. In him, as the Apostle has it, dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. When, consequently, we are led to adore the Father, it is not the Father as an incomprehensible Being above all thought, not as the Lord Jesus described the Jewish idea of the Father, Ye have neither heard the voice of the Father at any time, nor seen his shape, but as the Father embodied in the Savior. We love the Father as presented to us in the adorable Divine man, who said, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? He that hath seen me hath seen the Father; how sayest thou then, show us the Father? The soul that can so regard his God and Savior feels that he can really obey the Divine commandments. Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart. The one glorious center of all help for him, is the Everlasting Father as our Creator; the Divine Redeemer as our Savior; the Giver of His Holy Spirit as our Regenerator.
We can close all our affections around Him, embrace Him with all our hearts, and thus delightedly feel assured that when we are worshiping the Lord we are worshiping the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
But satisfactory as this view is, when regarded in relation to sound reason, it is entirely based statements of Holy Scripture. Look very carefully, and you will always find, just as I have assured you in relation to God, that from the beginning of Scripture to the end there is only One glorious Divine Person held forth for the souls adoration. Before the Incarnation this glorious Divine person was called Jehovah, after the Incarnation this glorious Divine person was called Jesus. Jesus is both Lord and Christ. In Jesus, as the Apostle says, God is all, and in all; or, as He Himself declares in the very last chapter of the Book of Revelations, I, Jesus, have sent my angel to declare these things to the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright and the morning star. In Him is that Divine love that is the root of all being; is Him is the Divine human form that is the offspring of David; in Him is the bright shining forth of the Spirit, that like a star dawns upon our mental night and draws us towards Himself until as we advance from state to state we find that the little star becomes a grand sun, the glorious Sun of Righteousness with healing in His wings. Hear O Israel then may be asserted again at the close of Revelation as at its beginning, Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord.
But, although a soul often learns this great truth and delights in it, although it may be discovered that it takes in all the teaching respecting God we have, when we truly understand the Lord’s life in the world, and His life now as filling all things, yet many a time will come up this anxious thought,But how about the atonement? Many are deeply impressed with the idea that, the doctrine of the atonement requires that God should be regarded as being exceedingly angry with us on account of the sin of our first parents in the garden of Eden, so angry that He determined that all the human race should suffer everlasting perdition in consequence; and, inasmuch as God does not change, unless some substitute had been found that could receive all this dreadful punishment on Himself, all the human race would have perished.
Such a soul thinks I shall perish unless I believe all this punishment has been sustained by Christ, as my substitute. He stood and paid for me, and consequently my debt having been fully paid to the Divine Father, I claim the benefit of it by faith; and God, who had been so awfully offended, is reconciled to me. If there is only One Divine person, and that One Divine person became man, to redeem man from sin, although Christ suffered, there is no other Divine person to accept the punishment that is due and pardon me. If so, all the terrible calamity of everlasting perdition seems to be right against me, if there is only One Divine person. It, therefore, comes very natural to us to inquire how the real doctrine of the atonement is to be understood, combined with the real doctrine of there being only One God, the ruler of heaven and earth.
In the first place allow me to reiterate what was said in relation to the doctrine of the Lord, that the true doctrine will be really found to be the simple teaching of Scripture upon the subject. In the Scriptural doctrine we are not led to suppose that two Divine beings of different minds are to be regarded as essential to the atonement. There is nothing whatever in the Sacred Scripture anywhere, or in the nature of things, which implies, that, when man fell from God, God also fell from His perfections. For that is what really must have happened if God got into a passion, became vindictive, and determined to punish eternally the creatures whom He made to be everlastingly happy. The Scripture tells us much about the fall of man, but not a word about the fall of God. But, God, in the very necessities of the case, from the evidence of creation, and from His own nature, must be regarded as LOVE ITSELF AS GOODNESS ITSELF. Only from love and goodness, beyond all thought and estimation of ours, could there have been formed a glorious universe like the present, and men created as immortal denizens of it. For what end but that of infinite love could God have brought into existence beings like you and me, who never could add anything to Him ; never could give any selfish increase to His glory, or His happiness, or to anything. We are but recipients of His bounty, By the grace of God we are what we are, and even the highest angel in heaven will still only be a greater receiver than we, while eternity goes on; more blessed, that is all.
When man becomes good he does not do anything to God, or recompense Him; it is only that he receives more good than he did before. God does not require worship for His sake, but for ours. He wishes us to be pure, in order that we may receive blessing into ourselves, and be made happy. He wishes us to made wise, because wisdom is His inestimable riches. He wishes us to become loving, for love is heaven itself. The more we receive and the more we are blessed, the more we are His debtors. All our faculties are vessels formed to receive some glory, some beauty, some excellence from God, and reflect them. Man may be truly described as a concentration of faculties innumerable, placed in the center of the world, in order that all God’s glorious creation may throw its rays about him, and bless him. The eye is an organ by which all the beauties of color and form may come upon us from everything around and everything above. The ear is formed so that the music of the human voice and all the harmonies of creation, from the glorious bass of the ocean to the thrilling song of the lark, and all the innumerable sounds in which harmony expresses itself, may enter and delight us. So, every faculty is a means by which the Divine bounties may strike upon us on every side, and we be infinite receivers. To receive is mans privilege and mans nature, and God desires that it should be so more and more while eternal ages roll on. Such is the love of God, the very moving spring of all the Divine attributes. This it was that caused the universe to exist, and you and me to be brought into being, and if God became an inflictor of agony, if He desired to punish, especially to punish everlastingly, and to punish children unborn, who had had no conscious part in Adams sin, then God must have totally changed His character. He must have fallen when man felt. But the Scriptures say nothing of that. They tell us that man fell, In the day thou eatest thereof, it was said concerning man, thou shalt surely die. And when this is viewed in the light of Scripture we see it realized. Man did die–not literally–that day, but spiritually he died. For what really is death? Not that separation from time which we usually call death, but which is only rising to higher life.
The decay of holiness, of purity, of tenderness, of affection, of goodness, and of truth, of angelic life. This is death! Thus the apostle Paul expresses it, To be carnally minded is death; to be spiritually minded is life and peace. And when men turned away from God, which they preferred their own conceits instead of Divine wisdom, which were of the tree of their own knowledge of Good and evil, instead of taking God’s lessons of love and wisdom, they then died, and every man who imitates this folly dies mentally to this day. He dies more and more every day that he lives in sin. A life of sin is his death. There is no other death worth speaking of. Every other kind of death than this is only apparent; is no real death at all. He that liveth and believeth in me said the Savior, shall never die. Believest thou this?
Well, then, we take it just as Scripture teaches it, that the Lord never changed from His Divine disposition to bless, that, although man turned from him, God did not turn from His own love, He still continued good to all. His tender mercies are over all his works. When the earth turns away from the sun, the sun still continues to shine. We say the sun has gone down; but we know that it is only an appearance. Just so it is an appearance with man that God has turned from him. The sun never moves and never ceases to shine, and when the earth comes round again she finds the sun shining as brightly and as warmly as ever. So it is with God. He is the Father of Lights, and in Him there is no variableness neither shadow of turning. When men died, God still lived, still loved, still burned with more than a mothers affection, with more than a fathers glow of tenderest feelings; still breathed over all His children a desire that they should come back to Him, and be made wise, and good, and happy. This is just what our text says, I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake. It is said a little earlier in the chapter, I, even I, am the Lord, and besides me there is no Savior. There is no other Savior, there is none other wanted. He Himself was powerful enough; He was our Father, our Father with infinite affection, with omnipotent power.
There was no other Savior needed, and no other Savior possible. There is no other Savior that an earnest humble man could want.
If I am in danger, and my father was capable of saving me, I would rather be saved by him than by anybody else. And, when mankind were in danger, the Scriptures teach us that our heavenly Father desired to save us, and was able to do it. Thou, O Lord art our Redeemer, our Father, thy name is from everlasting.—Isaiah lxiii., 16. Therefore we read in the words of our first text, I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake. The peculiar phrase that the dark ages added to our prayers, for Christs sake, has no warranty in Holy Scripture. It is true that we are saved for Christs sake, but not for Christs sake as another from God. We are saved for Christs sake because Christ is God Himself I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake. He could not possibly do it for the sake of any one that was more merciful than Himself, for He is infinitely merciful. He blots out our transgressions for His own sake. The phrase for Christs sake, as uttered in prayer to God is unscriptural one. It never occurs in a prayer in the Sacred Volume. It only occurs in an exhortation once, where the apostle Paul says, as you will find in the last verse of the 4th of his Epistle to the Ephesians, Forgive ye one another, as God, for Christs sake, hath forgiven you. And, then, as you will see in the margin, and read in the observations of any learned interpreter that you may please to look at it ought to be As God in Christ hath forgiven you. There is nothing about sake in the passage. It is simply Forgive one another as God in Christ hath forgiven you. In the Sacred Volume there are many examples of prayers. There are many prayers in the Book of Psalms, but they conclude, Do this for thy tender mercy’s sake, For thy goodness sake, For thy loving kindness sake. Never for the sake of anybody else; and so it is said here. The Lord blotteth out our transgressions for His own sake, and will not remember our sins.
It is dishonoring to our Divine Creator, and has had a most painful effect upon the human race to regard God as stern and unmerciful, as only pardoning, when He is paid in anguish, which is in fact no pardon at all. Those who are paid do not forgive a debtor–they get their due. To prey to God for Christs sake is doing the very reverse of what God directs as the souls duty in prayer. It is going to the invisible Deity, and mentioning Christs name. We are commanded to go to Christ Himself, that He may grant our petitions, and the souls duty in prayer.
It is going to the invisible Deity, and mentioning Christs name. We are commanded to go to Christ Himself, that He may grant our petitions, and the Father be glorified in the Son.–John xiv., 13.
There are those, who, to avoid the distressing idea that there are three Divine persons, have turned away from the belief of the Lord Jesus being God at all. They have thought that they would pray to the incomprehensible God the Father alone, and when attempting to explain this philosophically, have often said that the Father has no form, no body, nor parts, nor passions. Such a being, however, is only a name. But minds of that kind, who are sincere, don’t do what they think they do. They commence their prayers O Father of heaven. They adore Him as one who is merciful, bountiful, piteous. He, what do you mean by He? He is a person, He has a form, He has feelings. You say you are appealing to a being who has no parts, or passions, or anything of that kind, but that is not He. The moment you use He you have a Divine person before you. You may not call him Jesus Christ, but Jesus Christ is the only glorious person who is the Everlasting Father, and you are adoring Him under another name. You cannot get at God without Him, and it is useless trying to do so. All the thoughts of human beings, when they become practical, when they are directly offered up to God, all aspire to a Being who is a glorious Divine man. Although persons may call Him by a variety of names, there is only One glorious Divine Man. All, therefore, who are enlightened, all who are blessed, all who are comforted, all who are saved, receive these gracious workings from the Lord Jesus Christ, though possibly under many other titles. There is no other Savior. No man cometh unto the Father but by Him. This is the stone set at nought of the builders, which is become the head of the corner. Neither is there salvation in any other. For there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.–Acts iv., 11, 13. Those who inwardly worship God do really come unto Jesus, as He invites them, and happy will it be when they are wise enough to understand themselves. He says Come unto me all ye that are weary and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
He is the glorious one, who for His own sake accepts as for there is no better;–for His own mercy’s sake, for there is no mercy equal to His–for His own loving kindness sake, because He infinitely desires to bless every one of His children. He cares for each one as much as if He had no other child but that one in the whole universe. He desires infinitely to remove that immortal child’s sins from him, and give him goodness and happiness.
Our second test says God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son; and so far at least it is evidently in harmony with our previous passage. Allow me to suggest that you do not go over the passage too fast.
The idea commonly entertained is, that God was angry with the world, and the Son agreed to come and to bear all the punishment due to men, and that God allowed it to be so. But this passage does not say anything of that kind. It says God himself so loved the world. He was not going to curse the world, He was desirous of blessing the world. He still loved the world, although the world was in a state of hatred and opposition to Him. Still, from love He regarded them, or He had not followed them all the way down with various means by which they might be associated with Himself and if possible led back to Him. He had sent angels, He had seat messengers, He had sent His Word, He had used ten thousand means by which He might draw men back again to order and to heaven. Many had been saved, but many had continued to sink into greater and greater degradation. In order to reach them down in this their lowest state, God from love formed a Humanity, His only begotten Son, God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that they might believe in Him, and He might give life, that is love to them.
In this passage it is said He gave His only begotten Son, but you will find other passages in which it is said He gave Himself for us. The Apostle says for the coming of the great God and our Savior, who gave himself for us. Is there a difference between the two, when it is said He gave His Son and He gave Himself? Are these varying statements? Certainly not. Because, His Son, is God Himself as to His Humanity. When men could be reached in no other saving manner, then God formed by means of the Virgin Mary His Human nature, which He could fill infinitely with His own Spirit.
But God gave not the Spirit by measure unto Him.–John iii, 34. This Humanity He could make perfect through sufferings, glorify and unite fully with Himself, and shine upon mankind with a milder, dearer, glory than before.
The intention in all was to call men hack to Himself God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself. This is the teaching of Scripture, and is taught everywhere in Scripture. Some Christians think when the simple emphatic language of Scripture is uttered which declares that man has to be reconciled to God, not God to man, that there are other passages which declare the contrary. We believe this side, and you believe the other. But that is not really the case. On doctrinal subjects, the whole of the Scripture always teaches the same great principle, expressed in clear and striking language. It is never said the atonement was to bring God to be merciful towards man–NEVER. It is ALWAYS said it was for bringing man back to God; ALWAYS. There is no exception. I have mentioned the saying of the Apostle, God was in Christ, reconciling the world onto himself. He suffered, the just for the unjust, TO BRING US TO GOD. And how? First, men had so far departed from God that they had not only blinded and deluded themselves; as must necessarily happen, but they had suffered the infernal host to gather round them. Evil men become in the other world evil spirits, evil spirits in the other world unite with evil spirits in this world. Like is joined with like mentally, and so men became spiritually in prison. They were imprisoned in the prison-houses of sin, of falsity and darkness. When Christ came, men sat in darkness and the shadow of death, a darkness too dense for them to disperse. If the Lord had not descended to render them help, there they must forever have remained. Man, unaided against evil spirits must be defeated. A spiritual being out of the flesh is more powerful either for good or for evil, than he was in the flesh. Besides all the evil are gathered together in the eternal world, and their force is like the force of the ocean, as exerted against a human being.
It is bad to be a slave to another human being; it is bad to be a slave even to the best man that lives, for a slave has not power of free progress and elevation; but to be a slave to infernal spirits, to be a slave to the monsters of hell, this is a slavery far beyond all other degradation, and this is the state in which the human race existed when the Lord became our Redeemer.
Men strayed from God, but He saw the results, and announced by His prophets that He would become a Savior. He could come and save to the uttermost. The seed of the woman should bruise the serpents head, sin in its center and source. That was the object for which the Lord came into the world. It was God Himself coming by the woman’s seed, the only begotten Son, and breaking mans fetters. That holy thing, the angel said to the Virgin Mary, that shall be born of thee shall he called the Son of God. All other sons had human fathers as well as human mothers, but here was an only begotten Son. The power of the Highest overshadowed the Virgin, and formed a Divine Human nature, that through this Divine Human nature hell might be subdued. When the Lord came into the world was written–Blessed be the Lord God of Israel for He hath visited and redeemed his people; and hath raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David; that me being delivered from the hand of our enemies, that is from the powers of darkness, might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him, all the days of our life. The human nature is called A horn of salvation, because the animals that have horns exercise power by that means, and so the human nature of the Lord was, as it were, His horn, His means of exercising omnipotence against the powers of evil. When the Lord Jesus began His ministry He said The spirit of Jehovah is upon me: I am come to proclaim liberty to the captives; the opening of the prisons to them that are bound, to bind up the broken-hearted. Such was the great purpose for which the Lord our Savior became a man. He was the eternal Jehovah, and there was no Savior besides Him.
But secondly, when men were thus set free from the trammels of the powers of darkness, there was then another object to be accomplished, God’s love was to be manifested in His Humanity. God was to be manifested love itself, pity itself, tenderness itself. God’s love in Christ must shine so purely and so beautifully, that every heart which could be touched by love would be attracted to love Him.
To bring men to God, was so to manifest the Divine Being, that through the eyes of Christ, from His heart, by His tender acts, by His infinite charity, there might be a constantly attractive force to win men to Himself. Such was the SECOND purpose for which the only begotten Son was given. If it had not been God Himself to do this, supposing men had been won to Christ, they would not have been won to God. He gave himself for us to redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people zealous of good works.–Titus iii., 14.
Many have distressed themselves with the thought that they could love Christ, but God seemed so awful a Being they could not love Him. Theology in the dark ages really attributed everything terrible to God. Every quality that man could attribute to on infinitely malignant being they attributed to God. When war and waste had induced famine it was ascribed to the Divine Being. When gluttony and drunkenness had induced apoplexy, they believed themselves struck by a Divine visitation. To correct these and thousands of similar conceptions, and to win their love, God brought Himself near to His creatures, as He said–I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me. God manifest in the flesh might be seen to be so loving, so tender, so affectionate, so thoroughly disposed to do everything for His creatures, and yet infinite in purity and majesty, that every heart that could be attracted would be drawn to Him. From Him, God manifest, the Lord Jesus Christ has constantly radiated ever since the Incarnation the disposition to spread charity and goodwill. No one thinks of attributing anything revengeful to Christ. Men always give Him credit for loving them, and if they hope to be saved from the high awful majesty whom they dread, they trust it will be through the Lord Jesus Christ.
But there is no other God. When you have got to the Lord Jesus Christ, you need not go any further He came that you might not go any further. He said, Whosoever cometh unto me I will in no wise cast out. Whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the FATHER MAY BE GLORIFIED IN THE SON. He that eateth me shall live by me. The great doctrine of the Sacred Word is, that God was manifest in the flesh, overcame our spiritual enemies, then exhibited His Divine love and mercy to His creatures, and thus reconciled them to Himself.
He turned their hearts and minds to Him, made them one with Him, and this is meant by the Atonement.
The word atonement is made up of three syllables, at-one-ment. Ment, the old Latin word, means, signifying mind, added to our Saxon words, at one;at-one-ment. Men had sunk into a different mind from God. God was drawing them back again and making them of one mind with Him. This is what is meant by atonement. The word atonement is only once mentioned in the New Testament. We also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom me have received the atonement.–Rom. V., 11. Through the Lord’s Humanity, man could receive the light of His wisdom, the power of His love, the tenderness of His affection. They receive it through Him, and are thus brought into harmony with Him, and so it is said, Thanks be to God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have received the atonement.
The third object presented in the Scriptures as the work of the Lord Jesus is, that the Lord glorified this Humanity and eternally united it to Himself. From the Lord’s glorified Humanity proceeds His Holy Spirit. He is thus the Divine Giver of spiritual light and life. Just look at the text again, He gave his only begotten Son. He first of all formed an ONLY BEGOTTEN SON, and then gave Him to be a center of salvation and blessing. He did this for the sake of the human race. He gave Himself in His Humanity that all who believed in Him might not perish, but have everlasting life. The notion too often is that men should strive to believe in the Father on account of what our Lord Jesus Christ had done. But no. That all who believe in him. They do not need to go any further. Come to Him and believe in Him. Believe in what He did, believe is what He said, and believe in what He now is–the loving Savior, the King of kings, and Lord of lords. Believe that what He says is true, believe that what He did was good, believe that He is as He says, our Divine Savior, our Redeemer, our all in all, believe that He lived and died, and rose again for us. Believe this and you will not perish, you will not become wicked, you will not become carnally-minded, you will not become selfish, worthless and dead in trespasses and sins. Believe, believe, in Him. What did He say that we are to believe? Whoso cometh after me let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.
Believing in Him is doing that. That is the one great thing that men have to do. Deny self, follow the Lord, when it is a cross to do so. Many alas, speak much of believing, but they believe that the little prayer which they hope to make at life’s end, is to five them everlasting life. This is not believing in Him. He said, If ye will enter into life keep the commandments. To believe in Him is really to do so. He said, They that have done good shall come forth to the resurrection of life. Believing in Him is coming forth from the grave of our corruptions and rising to a life of love. Believing in Him is believing in His teachings, believing what He says to be true, and actually bringing it into our lives.
If men thus believe in the Divine Savior, the result is, They shall have everlasting life. What does this mean? In the Scriptures, life means love. He is said to be living who is loving, and all are dead besides. The man of hate, the man of selfishness, the man of pride, the man of worthlessness of soul and habit, he is not, in the Scriptures regarded as living at all; he is dead, because he is dead to all that ennobles men, that sanctifies them, and gives them happiness. On the other hand, when a person really comes in heart and life and conjoins himself to the Lord Jesus, then those words are fulfilled, My son who was dead is alive again, who was lost is found. A really good man who is animated by the love of the Lord Jesus, with love derived from the Lord Jesus is said to live. Awake thou that sleepest, the Apostle exclaims, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light. The light of Christ is the light of life. A man who is really animated by love to God, and love to man, who really loves all that is noble, and sacred, and true, this man lives and he that believes the Lord Jesus, and in heart worships Him, lives from Him, he lives the life of heaven. This is everlasting life. A man who has thus risen from carnal-mindedness to spiritual-mindedness; who has risen from what is mean, worthless, sordid, and selfish to what is truly noble and good, he has a life that will never die; it is everlasting life. The Scriptures speak generally of Christians having this life NOW. He that believeth in me is no longer under condemnation, but is passed from death unto life.
Oh if men were glowing with love, if seeing what the Holy Savior is, and what the Holy Spirit is, if we would open our hearts and minds to receive the quickening impulse of this heaven-giving love, and live the Divine life of doing good, of making heaven upon earth, live with a desire to become more and more angel-like the longer we live, and the more blessed should we become. It is pitiable to see a person who has kept himself severed from his Savior God, the resurrection and the life; to see such a person sinking in age and helplessness, sinking into sordid, selfish, obstinate stupidity, at length, into imbecility, and even into dark insanity. Oh! Immeasurably sad is it to see one bright light of heaven going out after another in the soul, until all is blank and dark, because the man has refused everlasting life.
But if a person is determined that he will not be hells bond-slave, that he will not be a victim of pride, selfishness, and insanity; that because God has given him power to break away from the atmosphere of hell, and to rise into the light of heaven, he will not stay in darkness but will follow the Savior God in the regeneration, he then has everlasting life. The older he grows the younger he becomes. He lives on, and lives upward. When the time of earthly dissolution comes, and the earthly house of this tabernacle perishes, the inner house, the soul, in all the beauty of angelic love lives on and enters into open association with its angelic friends in heavens eternal land, there to live, there to be blessed, and to bless in everlasting life,–that is, everlasting love. He owes it all, and adoringly confesses he owes it all, to the Father in the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Author: Jonathan Bayley—Scripture Paradoxes -Their True Explanation (1868)