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  • CHAPTER - THE ATONEMENT — ITS NATURE (CONTINUED)
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    The particular aspect of the Satisfaction of Christ which is now before us leads into the very heart of this wondrous theme. It is most important for the honoring of God and the establishing of our souls in the Truth that the nature of the Atonement should be scripturally and clearly defined. Mistake at this point is fatal. Until we apprehend aright what it was that Christ did, we are not prepared to contemplate the design, the efficacy, the extent, or the fruits and results of it, and still less are we equipped to proclaim and expound it. For these reasons we must proceed slowly and endeavor to make quite sure of our ground. The great majority of the errors of men upon the Atonement are the consequences of an unscriptural conception of the nature of it. We would therefore beg the reader to prayerfully and patiently read and re-read what we are writing on this vital phase of our subject, testing all by God’s Word.

    In our last chapter we pointed out that the atoning work of Christ was, First , a federal one: that there was an official union existing between the Mediator and those for whom He mediated, that there is a legal oneness between Christ and His people. Before the foundation of the world God’s elect were “chosen in Christ” ( Ephesians 1:4), “promised” eternal life ( Titus 1:2), and were “given” grace in Him ( 2 Timothy 1:9). It was therefore as their covenant Head, and because of this, as their covenant Surety, that when the fullness of time was come God sent forth His Son to transact on their behalf. All that Christ did and all that He suffered was as their legal Representative. Unless this be firmly grasped as what lies at the very foundation of the redemptive sacrifice of Christ, we are certain to err when attempting to interpret its scope and application. Christ and His people together formed one mystical Person in the repute of God.

    Second , the atoning work of Christ was a substitutionary one. What Christ did and suffered was not only on the behalf of others, but it was also expressly in the stead of others. True, blessedly true, that His obedience and His sufferings have benefited others, but it needs to be emphatically said and firmly held that His obedience was performed and His sufferings were endured in the actual room of others. Christ took the law-place of His people, assumed their liabilities, became their Sponsor, and undertook to satisfy Divine justice for them. This Christ engaged to do when He accepted the terms of the Everlasting Covenant. This Christ came to do when He became incarnate. From Bethlehem to Calvary He is to be regarded as having taken the place of His guilty people, suffering and doing, doing and suffering, what the righteous law of God required at their hands. “When the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law” ( Galatians 4:4), Christ’s derivation of real humanity through His mother is no unimportant matter, concerning the Atonement, for His fraternity, as our kinsman Redeemer, absolutely depends upon the fact that He derived His humanity from the substance of His mother; for without this He would neither possess the natural nor legal union with His people, which must be at the foundation of His representative character. To be our Redeemer His humanity could neither be brought from heaven, nor immediately created by God, but derived as ours is, from a human mother; but with this difference, His humanity never existed in Adam’s covenant, to entail either guilt or taint. He must be within the pale of mankind. Nevertheless, Christ was “made under the law” not by the condition of creaturehood, but for the ends of Suretyship: hence the imputative value of His obedience. (Condensed from George Smeaton.)

    The words “made under the law” need to be carefully defined. “Christ became subject to the law by a special Divine constitution.

    He was not born under it as all men are; their subjection to the law follows upon their being the natural descendants of Adam, to whom the law was originally given, and his being to them a representative.

    But Christ was not a natural descendant of Adam, nor was the first Adam a representative of the second Adam, for He was the Lord from heaven. His obligation to the law ariseth not from His birth, but He was made under it by an appointment peculiar to Himself, to answer a specific end, viz., the redemption of sinful men. And therefore what the law required of them, either in a way of suffering or obedience, He became obliged by this Divine constitution to undergo and perform” (John Brine, 1743, The Certain Efficacy of the Death of Christ).

    Christ was both “born” and “given” to the people of God ( Isaiah 9:6), and that with a view to their salvation: what He did and suffered was for the sake of and in the room of those on whose account He came into the world. Some have sought to evade the vicarious character of His obedience by arguing that as Man, Christ was under obligation to keep the law. But this is to deny, if not implicitly yet explicitly that He was the Son of God.

    Great care needs to be exercised at this point. The humanity of Christ, as such, was impersonal , and therefore owed no obedience to the law. The God-man is not two persons in one: He is one person with two natures. As the Son of God He was a person before He became incarnate. In becoming incarnate He took to Himself humanity, but not a second personality.

    Therefore the manhood of Christ being united to the Son of God, He was not and could not be obligated to obey the law. It was by a Divine constitution, by covenant agreement, that He was “made under the law,” with a view to the redemption and justification of God’s elect.

    Now the moment Christ was “made under the law” He entered the place occupied by His people, considered as fallen creatures. This alone explains the experiences He encountered, the degradation He suffered, the injustice He met with at the hands of men, and the punishment He received from God Himself. We harbor the most dishonoring and degrading views of God if we imagine for a moment that He would allow an innocent person to suffer, still less so that He would permit His beloved Son to unrighteously suffer at the hands of human wretches. We shall never view aright the manger-cradle, the necessity for the flight into Egypt, the laboring at the carpenter’s bench, the having not where to lay His head, the horrible indignities He endured from His enemies, and the wicked treatment He received from those who passed sentence of death upon Him, till we recognize that from Bethlehem to Calvary He was the vicarious Victim of His people, that He was bearing their sins, and suffering the due rewards of their inquities. “No good thing will He withhold from them that walk uprightly” ( Psalm 84:11).

    But as the descendants of fallen Adam, God’s people, in their unregenerate days, did the very reverse from walking uprightly. They forsook the way of God’s commandments and followed a course of self-will, and that, not occasionally, but constantly. In consequence, many good things were withheld from them. Though addressed directly to Israel, the words of Jeremiah 5:25 contain a principle of wide application: “Your iniquities have turned away these things, and your sins have withholden good things from you. Therefore, when Christ came here as the Sinbearer of His people, Divine justice required that He should be deprived of many “good things.”

    As a wanderer from the Father’s house ( Luke 15:13), man has forfeited all right to so much as an earthly abode, hence we find Christ taking the place of the homeless Stranger here. Inasmuch as fallen man prefers the “world” to anything that God sets before him, we find Christ carried down into Egypt (the outstanding symbol of “the world” in Scripture), and therefore did God say “Out of Egypt have I called my Son” ( Matthew 2:15). In consequence of the Fall, God pronounced the following curse upon man, “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread” ( Genesis 3:19), therefore do we find Christ toiling for His ( Mark 6:3). Because the elect in their unregenerate days failed to love their neighbors, we find Christ experiencing the hatred of men. Because we have been guilty of gluttony, He was made to hunger. Because we have been intemperate in drinking, He thirsted. Because we have misused our money, He was penniless ( Matthew 17:27). Because we have spoken ill of God, He was spoken against; because we have denied Him, He was denied. “Not one throb of pain did He feel, not one pang of sorrow did He experience, not one sigh of anguish did He heave, not one tear of grief did He shed, for Himself. All were for men; all were for us. If not one of His sufferings was personal, it follows that they were all substitutionary, that they were all, of course, included in the matter or substance of His atoning sacrifice. During the whole period of His mortal life the victim was a-slaying. At the moment of His birth, the sword of justice was unsheathed against the man who is Jehovah’s fellow, and returned not to its scabbard till it had been bathed in the blood of Calvary. “It may be deemed at variance with this view of the subject, that the redemption of man is sometimes in Scripture ascribed simply to the blood of Christ, or to His death alone. But such language is not to be understood as limiting the Atonement of Christ to the simple act of dying, or to those sufferings in which there was an effusion of literal blood. The bloody agony of the garden, and the accursed death of the Cross, were prominent and concluding parts of His sufferings, and, by a common figure, so to speak, the completion of His humiliation, without which all that went before must have been in vain; and may be regarded as having procured salvation, in the same way as that last installment of a sum which is paid by degrees, may be supposed to cancel the debt and procure a discharge. But, as when Christ is said to have been ‘obedient unto death,’ we are to understand the phrase, not of a single act , but of the duration of His obedience throughout the whole period of His life, so may it be said that He suffered unto death , as expressive of the duration of His suffering throughout the whole of His earthly course” (W.

    Symington).

    It is in the closing scenes of “the days of His flesh” that we may the more fully discover Christ occupying the place of His sinful people, and receiving from God that which was due them. Even where we behold Him before men, that which transpired is to be read and interpreted in the light of His vicarious position and His complete identification with His guilty people.

    What took place here on earth was but the visible adumbration of the trial and verdict of the Higher Court. Take His appearance before Caiaphas and Pilate. We venture to say that all the annals of human history will be searched in vain not only for a parallel but for anything approaching a resemblance. Nevertheless, the deeper meaning of the unprecedented treatment meted out to Christ has been perceived by but few. Here, as almost everywhere else, men have been occupied with the human instead of with the Divine side of things. Many a writer has marveled at the iniquitous conduct of Israel’s high priest and Judea’s Roman governor, and have scathingly condemned their unrighteous actions; but apparently it never occurred to them to ask, Why did God not only suffer, but ordain it all? ( Acts 4:27,28).

    The Romans were renowned for their respect for the law, the equity of their dealings, the generosity with which they treated those whom they conquered. How then is Pilate’s unjust treatment of Christ to be accounted for? True, from the human side, he feared that if he resisted the demands of the Jewish leaders, a complaint would be made to Caesar, and then he would probably lose his position. Nevertheless, this still leaves unsolved the deeper and more important question: Why should God require His Son to be mocked by submitting to a trial which appears to us worse than a farce, really, a travesty of justice? We submit that one consideration alone supplies the key to this mighty problem, and that, the two fold relation which Christ sustained: personally innocent, officially guilty; in Himself, without sin; by virtue of His identification with His people, “made sin.” It was the Sinner who was arraigned for sentence. “He was [judicially] reckoned [by God] among the transgressors” ( Luke 22:37): this applies equally to His trial, His buffetings in the judgment-hall, and His actual crucifixion. John 18:8 proves this: If the Representative be seized, then those whom He represented must go free.

    As the Substitute of His sinful people, Christ had to be found innocent and yet pronounced guilty! Though personally spotless, Divine justice required that He should be dealt with as officially deserving of condemnation. What occurred in Jerusalem was but the visible expression of the great Assize which had been held in Heaven. The sentence pronounced by the human judges was but the intimation or announcement of the sentence which had been passed by the Divine Judge upon the Sin-bearer. Christ hid not His face from shame and spitting. Why? Because as guilty criminals, as convicted outlaws, as the vilest of wretches, that is what our sins deserved.

    When before His accusers He was “dumb,” making no reply to the charges brought against Him ( Matthew 26:60). Why? Because though personally innocent, He occupied the place of guilty sinners, therefore was there nothing which He could adduce in extenuation.

    A marvelous flood of light does this throw upon the Gospel narratives. The charge which was laid against Christ as He stood before the Sanhedrin, as brought against those whom He represented was not false! Guilty of blasphemy against God each of us most certainly is. Therefore as the official Representative of His sinful people, the Lord Jesus stood silent, putting in no plea to arrest judgment. So true was the accusation against us , there was no need of witnesses ( Matthew 26:65)! We say again, the earthly court, dealing with the charge of blasphemy, or dishonor done to the Name and Word of God, and in sentencing to death our Surety, was the pronouncement on our sins, much in the same way as the shadow on the sundial registers the movements which are taking place in another sphere! Christ’s holy Person was there in the room of guilty persons, and the human judge but expressed the verdict of the Divine Judge! It was the Sinner who was arraigned for sentence. At the beginning, the Judge of all the earth had formally pronounced sentence, “Thou shalt surely die,” and that sentence was now fully and finally executed, vicariously , on elect sinners.

    It were an insult to His moral government to suppose for a moment that the inflexibly righteous and ineffably holy God would permit a perfectly innocent and pure Man to endure the indignities, the sufferings, and the sentence which Christ received. His own infallible Word assures us, “When a man’s ways please the Lord, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him” ( Proverbs 16:7).

    Ah, it was no innocent person that stood before Caiaphas and Pilate; instead, it was the sinner who was on trial — there in the person of his sinless and immaculate Substitute. The earthly court of judgment was but the foreground; in reality it was the Bearer of sin making a real appearance before the Bar of God ! Hence, there could only be one decision possible: though personally sinless He was officially guilty, and nothing remained but sentence of condemnation and the prompt execution of it. Thus may we, and thus should we admire the over-ruling providence of God, which caused the lower court on earth to shadow forth so clearly the action of the Supreme Court on High.

    What we have attempted to bring out above is so little apprehended, yea is so completely unknown to almost all of our readers — so superficial to the last degree are the pulpit-ministrations of the best today! — that we trust they will bear with our repetitions, and even go to the trouble of re-reading what has been written. So we say again, that there is no possible explanation of that (seemingly) anomalous trial, which passed through the due forms of law and order, unless we recognize that it was a symbolical representation, yea, a Divinely-arranged tableau, of a spiritual mystery, setting forth the altogether unique, because dual , relation which Christ occupied. Thus was Pilate obliged to affirm to absolute innocence of that blessed One who stood before him: seven times over he declared “I find no fault in Him.” Nevertheless, he sentenced Him to death! Christ was personally innocent, yet as the vicarious Victim, as the Representative of His criminal people, He was officially guilty. Thus, Christ was righteously pronounced personally spotless, but officially condemned to death. That is why God caused His beloved to endure such mockery, ignominy and suffering. “Bearing shame and scoffing rude, In my place condemned He stood; Sealed my pardon with His blood, Hallelujah! what a Savior.” The passages of Scripture which expressly set forth the vicarious character of Christ’s atoning work are so numerous that we can here but make a selection from them. It was predicted that, “After three score and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for Himself ” ( Daniel 9:26).

    Then for whom was He “cut off”? Hear the answer of God’s Spirit-taught people, “He was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed” ( Isaiah 53:5).

    From His own declarations we may cite the following. “The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many” ( Matthew 20:28); “The Good Shepherd giveth His life for the sheep” ( John 10:11).

    From the writings of the apostles, the following may be taken as samples: “Christ died for the ungodly” ( Romans 5:6); “Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the Just for the unjust” ( 1 Peter 3:18); “God... sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” ( 1 John 4:10).

    Enemies of the Truth, anxious to repudiate the substitutionary nature of Christ’s obedience and death have pointed out the word “for” is not conclusive. It may signify “in the stead of,” or it may also mean only “on the behalf of.” Thus: the soldier dies “for,” or on behalf of his country, The sufficient answer to this is that though in some passages the Greek preposition “huper” is used, which also has the same double meaning as our English “for,” yet there are other passages where the Holy Spirit has employed the term “and” and this cannot signify anything else than “in the stead of.” This is the word used in Mark 10:41, “This is My body which is given for (and) you.”

    In the Septuagint Greek translation of the Old Testament the word “anti” is used to express the setting of one thing or person over against another.

    This may be seen by a reference to the following passages, where “anti” is used for the words we place in italic type: “God hath appointed me another seed instead of Abel” ( Genesis 4:25). “Joseph gave them bread in exchange for horses and flocks and cattle” ( Genesis 47:17). “Aaron died, and Eli his son ministered in the priest’s office in his stead ” ( Deuteronomy 10:6).

    These passages are so clear and the scope of the preposition is so obvious that comment thereon would be superfluous.

    This Greek preposition is also used in the New Testament in passages other than where Christ is in view, which define its meaning unequivocally.

    Take the following instances where “anti” is the Greek equivalent for the English words placed in italic type: “Archelaus reigned in Judea in the room of his father Herod” ( Matthew 2:22). “Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” ( Matthew 5:38). “If he ask for a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent?” ( Luke 11:11). “Recompense no man evil for evil” ( Romans 12:17).

    In none of these passages can “and” possibly mean “on behalf of.” No, it has — except in those cases where it is used in the sense of against , as in “anti-christ” — the uniform significance of “in the stead of.”

    Thus, after a minute examination of the passages where this Greek preposition is found, we are thoroughly satisfied that we are fully warranted in saying with A. A. Hodge, “If the Holy Spirit intended us to understand that Christ was strictly substituted in the Law-place of His people, He could have used no language more exactly adapted to express His meaning. If this were not His meaning, we may well despair of arriving at the understanding of His meaning on the subject through the study of His words in any department of Scripture.”

    Though the Greek preposition “huper” has the double meaning which our English “for” possesses, that is no reason for allowing the enemies of Truth to wrest from our hands those passages which treat of Christ’s Atonement, where this particular term occurs. That “huper” sometimes has the same force as “and” no honest scholar will deny. That we are obliged to understand it as signifying “in the stead of” in many places, may be clearly shown and definitely established by various considerations. Take just one passage’ “For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if One died for (huper) all, therefore all died” ( 2 Corinthians 5:14 R. V.).

    Here the fact of substitution is plain; since Christ died in the room and place of the “all,” then the “all” are legally regarded as having died too. In other words, the vicarious atonement of Christ is reckoned as the personal atonement of the believer. It would be mere nonsense to say, “If one died for the benefit of all, then all died.” Should it be asked, Why has the Holy Spirit used the somewhat ambiguous “huper” in some passages rather than the unequivocal “and,” the answer is, Because Christ not only died in His people’s stead, but also for their benefit!

    Summing up what has been before us under this second division of the nature of Christ’s Satisfaction, we would say: The sufferings to which the Lord Jesus was exposed, from the hour of His birth until He committed His spirit into the hands of the Father, were strictly and definitely vicarious, borne as the Substitute of His people-not only for their advantage, but actually in their room and stead . He came here as their Representative and federal Head, undertaking and discharging all their obligations, receiving in His spirit and soul and body, all that was due them. He was their Ransom, paying their debts. He was their Mediator, coming in between God and them, receiving from Him and rendering to Him, whatever was due to and from them. He was their High Priest offering for them. He was abased because of our pride. He was made poor to atone for our covetousness. He was an hungered because we, in Adam, eat of the forbidden fruit. He thirsted, because we have drunken from forbidden fountains. He died, because we were dead in sins.

    Though it be an anticipation of what belongs, strictly speaking, to a later aspect of our theme, we cannot close this chapter without calling attention to the clear, unescapable, and inexpressibly blessed implication of what has been before us. Christ not only died in our stead, He died to secure our salvation. He not only died in our room, He died for our benefit. Because He became poor, we are enriched. Because He was forsaken of God, we are reconciled to God. Because He was stripped of His garments, we are clothed with the robe of His righteousness. He was abased that we might be exalted. He came to earth that we might go to heaven. He became servant that we might be “made free.” He was troubled that we might be comforted. He was tempted that we might triumph. He was scourged that we might be healed. He was dishonored that we might be glorified. And there is no contingency or uncertainty about it. That His people should reap the benefits of Christ’s satisfaction is not made dependent on their fulfilling any conditions. Repentance and faith were purchased by Christ for every one for whom He obeyed and suffered. Divine justice requires that Christ shall see of the travail of His soul and be satisfied. The law of God demands that its reward should be bestowed on all for whom Christ obeyed it. The very righteousness and faithfulness of God insist that, because the Captain of their salvation was made perfect through suffering, He shall bring the “many sons to glory .” “Payment God cannot twice demand, First at my bleeding Surety’s hand And then again at mine. “Complete atonement Thou hast made, And to the utmost farthing paid What e’er Thy people owed. “Flow then can wrath on me take place If sheltered in Thy righteousness And sprinkled with Thy blood? “Turn, then, my soul, unto thy rest, The merits of thy Great High Priest Speak peace and liberty. “Trust in His efficacious blood, Nor fear thy banishment from God Since Jesus died for thee.” (Toplady)

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