Now we will consider one of the most important features of moral government, the government of God; namely, the atonement.
We will discuss the following points as we take up this important subject: We will:
- Call attention to well-established principles of government that will guide our investigation of the subject.
- Define the word atonement as we will use it in this discussion.
- Examine what we call natural theology, a priori affirmations of the conscience of our spirit upon this subject.
- Show the actual facts regarding the atonement.
- Consider the design of the atonement.
- Explain the extent of the atonement.
- Answer any objections that may exist.
Call attention to well-established principles of government that will guide our investigation of the subject.
- As we have previously seen, moral law is not founded upon some mere arbitrary will of God or of any other being in the universe; rather, the foundation of moral law is in the nature and relations of moral agents so that the rule of acting or willing which is imposed upon them is really a rule of their own conscience as understood by the intellect.
- Since the will of no being, even God, can create moral law, then it also stands to reason that no being can repeal or alter moral law since it is just that rule of action which is agreeable to the nature and relations of moral agents. For this reason moral law is as immutable as those natures and relations are.
- We all know that there is a distinction between the letter and the spirit of the law. The letter is known to relate to outward life or action while the spirit is known as the motive or intention from which the outward action proceeded. As an example, the spirit of moral law is contained in the one word, disinterested benevolence-love. The letter of the law is found in what we call the Decalogue, the Ten Commandments, and also in other precepts that we call outward acts. When considered in this way, no one that is in the legal profession or in a public governmental office would even consider that moral law is the “establishment of religion” since it is part of the conscience of every living being and part of the nature and relations of all moral beings.
- While the letter of the law may have certain exceptions, yet the spirit of the moral law allows no exceptions. The spirit of the moral law may, at times, require that the letter be disregarded or violated, but the spirit of moral law itself must never be disregarded or violated. That would be suicide for any culture. A good example of the letter being disregarded is that precept which states that there should be no labor on the Sabbath day. The spirit of the law may actually require labor on the Sabbath Day or on Sunday. Since the spirit of moral law is love or benevolence to God and to man, there may be things that require being attended to such as ministering to the sick, relieving the poor, feeding animals, and many other things that are in the scope of the spirit of the law as the work of necessity or mercy so that it would be required on the Sabbath day as well as any other day. Christ taught this regarding helping one’s animal out of a ditch on the Sabbath as he was in the act of healing on the Sabbath as well. The letter of the law may say, “…the soul that sinneth, it shall die.” Yet in the spirit of the law where certain conditions of mercy are in action, the soul that sins will live. The letter of the law is adamant and pitiless; it condemns as well as sentences to death all violators of its precepts with no regard to atonement or repentance. On the other hand, the spirit of the moral law allows and even requires that when satisfaction has been made to public justice with a return of the sinner to obedience, then that sinner will live and not die.
- When a lawgiver establishes a government and officially declares law, it is understood by all that the lawgiver has pledged himself to duly administer the law that he declares in order to support public order; and, for the promotion of public morals, the lawgiver will reward the innocent with his stated favor and protection while punishing the disobedient with the stated loss of his protection and favor.
- All laws are made public property in the sense that every subject of the government has an interest in the outcome. Those who are obedient subjects of government are interested in having the law supported and obeyed and they feel that wherever the law is violated the subjects of the government are injured and their rights are invaded. They would obviously expect the government to duly execute the penalties of the law when that law if violated.
- Let’s state here the important distinction between retributive justice and public justice. To treat every subject of government according to his character is retributive justice. It considers the intrinsic merit or demerit of every individual and treats them accordingly. On the other hand, promoting and protecting the public interests by legislation and administration of law in such a way as to promote the public good is called public justice. Under public justice the penalties of law will be executed where a precept is violated unless something else is done that will just as effectively secure the public interests. The criminal can receive pardon and have the penalty dispensed with if the demands of public justice are met by some other means. Retributive justice, on the other hand, makes no exceptions; it punishes without mercy for every crime. Public justice can make exceptions as often as required where public good is still satisfied; it has satisfied the spirit of the law. Retributive justice makes no exceptions; it clings to the letter of the law. It says, “…the soul t hat sinneth, it shall die.”
- Legal penalties are designed to secure obedience to the precept. This is also why the penalty is executed when the precept is violated. The lawgiver viewed the law has having enough importance that executing the penalty is his way of evidencing his sincerity in enacting, continuing adherence to, and his determination to abide by the principles of his government as revealed in the law; he abhors crime, has regard to public interests, and is determined to carry out, support, and establish the authority of his law.
- History shows that when mercy is exercised in order to set aside the execution of penalties, because of the potential for danger extreme delicacy is taken in extending mercy. The reason is that all subjects are influenced by the law and they must feel that even when mercy was extended that the law was still duly carried out. If a government exercises mercy only, with no atonement made to satisfy the demands of the law, the government is weakened immeasurably. It makes those who are tempted to violate the law hope for impunity, or an escape from the consequences. The result is that the government stands to lose control over its subjects and the law becomes nothing more than advice as we have stated. It is no longer law.
- In any instance where the precept is violated the head of the government is pledged to promote and protect the public interests by due administration of the law. In order to do this, if there is any instance where he would dispense with the penalty for some reason, then public justice requires that he will provide a substitute in such a manner that the public will consider that he has secured something just as effective as if the execution of the penalty were carried out on the offender. There can be no weakness here. Either the soul that sinneth must die or a substitute situation must be provided in accordance with the spirit of the law so that the public interest still sees that the law is not violated.
- Public justice is satisfied as long as the lawgiver can reveal that in his determination to support the execution of the penalty no inference can be made that the violators will have the possibility of escaping the consequences. The sinner can be returned to obedience and public justice will demand that the penalty be set aside as long as these conditions can be fulfilled. While the sinner still deserves to be punished according to the principles of retributive justice which would punish him according to his crimes, yet the public good demands that the sinner be spared and pardoned in the spirit of the law as long as the conditions above are met.
- An offender may repent but that would not be enough when the law has been violated and execution of the penalty must be carried out to satisfy public justice. If mercy and pardon is extended it must be in such a way that the offender has no power of his own to obtain the pardon. If all that was needed were repentance on the part of the offender, then he could sin repeatedly with no consequences, only going through the motions of repentance over and over again. The atonement, on the other hand, shows that the execution of the penalty is carried out, not on the offender, but on a substitute. This puts the pardon out of his hands by placing it in the hands of the one that takes the execution of the penalty on his behalf.
- Mercy and pardon cannot be extended unless it is clear to the public that the execution of the penalty was not dispensed with merely because the offender repented. Islam believes in this and that is precisely why Islam is a false religion. They have no atonement, nor do any other false religions have the atonement. Only Christianity has the atonement. When mercy and pardon is extended and the public knows that the offender had no power to escape the penalty without the conditions of fulfilling the penalty being satisfied outside of his own power, then public justice has been satisfied because other offenders know that they cannot escape with impunity within their own power. All must know that the execution or a substitute has been carried out totally outside the power of the offender.
- Once mercy is extended to the offender of law, the public would demand that there be no repeat of the crime committed or the atonement that had been made would be completely undermined by the continual commitment of crimes where there is no repeat atonement available for a repeat offense. If the offender were one that is prone to repeat offenses the wise thing to do would be to replace him with the one making the atonement so that the offender would be considered dead and the substitute would be considered living in the place of the offender, thereby nullifying any future possibility of a repeat offense. If it were possible for the offender to make a repeat offense and not be removed from the society by a judicial replacement, there would never again be a chance for another atonement which would mean that the offender would be faced with retributive justice instead. This would be infinitely worse than no atonement since public justice should have been avoided and retributive justice exercised instead. This means that the offender must allow himself to be considered dead and buried and removed from society. He must go through a change in identity. Society must never see him again. He has been removed. Now public justice has been completely satisfied.
- The spirit of the law cannot be eliminated or repealed. Even the spirit of the law requires that the penalty be executed or something must be done that will be just as effective. It can never be thought that one can escape the penalty for sin which would be true under the execution of the law. For this to be true in a practical sense consider the following:
- Sin cannot be forgiven merely because the offender repents; it would put the power of forgiveness in the hands of the offender and he would think that he could sin further with impunity.
- Sin can not be repeated either even if there is an atonement or it would still give hope of impunity.
- The sinner can never be allowed to continue in society without being replaced by one that is without sin for forgiveness must extend to all worlds and it could never do so as long as the offender remains in the public eye. Public justice demands that after the atonement is made that there be no more crimes committed for there can never be another atonement.
- For mercy to be such that the sovereign offers clemency, the above conditions would need to be understood and agreed to by the offender and the sovereign judge.
Define the word atonement as we will use it in this discussion.
The English word atonement is synonymous with the Hebrew word cofer. The verb for the word is caufar, to cover. On the Ark of the Covenant, the lid was called the cofer. It was the Mercy Seat.
Strong’s Concordance has it this way:
A primitive root; to cover (specifically with bitumen); figuratively to expiate or condone, to placate or cancel: – appease, make (an) atonement, cleanse, disannul, forgive, be merciful, pacify, pardon, to pitch, purge (away), put off, (make) reconcile (-liation).
1) to cover, purge, make an atonement, make reconciliation, cover over with pitch
1a) (Qal) to coat or cover with pitch
1b1) to cover over, pacify, propitiate
1b2) to cover over, atone for sin, make atonement for
1b3) to cover over, atone for sin and persons by legal rites
1c1) to be covered over
1c2) to make atonement for
1d) (Hithpael) to be covered
Part of Speech: verb
A Related Word by BDB/Strong’s Number: a primitive root
Same Word by TWOT Number: 1023, 1024, 1025, 1026
In the New Testament the word used is katallage.
From G2644; exchange (figuratively adjustment), that is, restoration to (the divine) favor: – atonement, reconciliation (-ing).
1a) of the business of money changers, exchanging equivalent values
2) adjustment of a difference, reconciliation, restoration to favour
2a) in the NT of the restoration of the favour of God to sinners that repent and put their trust in the expiatory death of Christ
Part of Speech: noun feminine
A Related Word by Thayer’s/Strong’s Number: from G2644
Citing in TDNT: 1:258, 40
When we examine both of these words, we see several beautiful things. First, the covering of the mercy seat is significant. The glory cloud dwelt in the Holy of Holies over the Mercy Seat. Under that Mercy Seat was placed the broken tablets that Moses brought down from the mount and broke when he saw the Children of Israel in sin dancing before an idol that they had made. They were representative of broken laws or sin. When the High Priest brought the blood of the atonement into the Holy of Holies once a year, it was sprinkled on the Mercy Seat symbolizing the covering of sin by the blood of the Sacrifice so that when God looked down upon the Mercy Seat, the blood stood between Him and the broken commandments, or between Him and the sin. It shows that the atonement had been made by the death of a lamb in behalf of all the people. This is the same thing that Jesus did as the Lamb of God in shedding His own blood and sprinkling it before God in Heaven upon the Heavenly Mercy Seat to cover our sins with His own blood. The second part is also quite symbolic with the Greek word symbolizing an exchange. The Bible says it this way:
“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.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)
“Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin;” (1 Peter 4:1)
“What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin. Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him: Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God. For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace. What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid. Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness.” (Romans 6:1-18)
As any can see from the passages of scripture and as we defined the terms, there is an adequate execution of the penalty in order to satisfy the Public Justice and then an exchange is made whereby the offender exchanges identities with the Sacrifice and even considers himself dead and risen with the Sacrifice who died and then raised from the dead. That effectively satisfies the Public Justice in executing the penalty and then in assuring that the crime will no longer be committed in the future through all ages since the offender has had his identity changed and his crime has been paid by the atonement. Then, in an act of public declaration, the offender publicly renounces his life and sins at a ceremony where he is literally buried for all to see and then risen again to live under a new name and identity for the future into all eternity. The name under which the crime was committed is buried and a new name with a new identity emerges putting him in the family inheritance and association with the sacrifice.
“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)
“There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.” (Romans 8:1-11)
“And the Gentiles shall see thy righteousness, and all kings thy glory: and thou shalt be called by a new name, which the mouth of the LORD shall name.” (Isaiah 62:2)
“He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.” (Revelation 2:17)
“Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin.” (Romans 6:6-7)
Examine what we call natural theology, a priori affirmations of the conscience of our spirit upon this subject.
Some consider that the position that has been stated does not lie in the realm of natural theology with a priori affirmations. However, there are things in history that one can refer to that give us a picture of what has been said. Natural theology does not have comprehension of the type of atonement that is being discussed here, but any that know the true character of God would assume that such a provision would be made since God is known to be disinterestedly benevolent and wishes only the best end for all of us which would require an atonement or we could never reach our best end. It just fits his character. We can also assume from his character that not only would God find a way to redeem the offender but he would also find a way to make them holy at the same time. An example might be drawn from a story called “The Tale of Two Cities” in which the rich royal that was condemned to die was lovingly replaced by his look-alike who gladly died in his place. The royal was whisked away to assume a new identity and his behavior from that day on had to be guarded or he would risk exposure and eventual death at the hands of the public. In a similar way, God has to find a way in natural theology to replace the offender, eliminate him from the scene, and then change his identity while keeping him aware that his position is most delicate but can be sustained as long as he abides by certain guidelines. There is a state that a person lives in after the atonement that may be described as follows:
- We can reasonably state that it is not a state of retribution since the penalty has been paid but as in a natural court of law a person who had been given mercy would naturally be put on probation.
- God has a purpose which is to make a change in the behavior of mankind and if discipline is necessary, He will do what is necessary.
- God will always follow up existing revelation with new revelations of His will so that we would be able to observe if the offender that has been freed is truly repentant, he will follow suit by accepting and following new revelations as they are made to him. This is a good way for the society that cannot see the heart of the individual to ascertain if repentance was genuine and if a genuine change of identity has taken place. Remember, in the natural world, if a person is given a new identity and then they “blow their cover,” as it were, they could incur the wrath of the society which now wants them to pay for the crimes that they had been absolved of. In a similar way, God gives tests along the way and gives new revelations of his will to the repentant one that will cause a positive reaction in the one who was genuine, but it may cause a reverse reaction in one that was only going through the motions. The will that has the best end of God and of the universe as the foundation of obligation will take any new revelation of the will of God or of a growth in the knowledge of God as a positive way to further know God and promote His best end. On the other hand, one that is only feigning repentance will balk at new revelations eventually to the point that eventually they will apostatize by returning to their original wicked identity and ways. To see just what natural theology would teach in an a priori way let us say:
- That the human race lives by the law of selfishness, a fallen state, and not by the law of benevolence. This is the law of selfishness to what unconverted men conform their lives.
- That God is benevolent which means that mercy is an attribute of God. With mercy He could pardon sin as long as it can be done safely with no harm to the divine government.
- That however merciful God may be, he is holy and cannot look on sin which would explain why a covering would be required before an offender could be given mercy and allowed to approach unto God. He will, however, allow one to be pardoned if it can be done without any harm to His holiness.
- That God has to be careful that when He does extend mercy He is not doing so at the risk of encouraging further sins by encouraging impunity in the commission of sin.
- That God must administer his government in such as way so that the fullest confidence throughout the universe is still placed in him because he states his law, its penalty, and His adherence to the spirit of the law without faltering or weakening his authority in carrying out the penalty. The universe depends upon this fact.
- That since sin cannot be pardoned without something more than the repentance of the sinner through the power that lies in him alone or the divine law would have to be repealed. This could trample on the divine authority, especially if a sinner got a false sense that his forgiveness was secure when he had not fulfilled the conditions of that forgiveness. He only fulfilled a single condition that required none but him to perform.
- That God could not be just to his own character or to the universe to offer forgiveness without providing a substitute of sufficient nature to impress upon the whole universe just how deeply serious God is in executing the penalty and yet make it possible for God to have mercy. The reason for the penalty is prevention of sin. So, for them to only repent without showing them another taking their place in the execution of the penalty would be the same as to repeal the law; so why would there even be the necessity of having the law in the first place. “Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: 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.” (Romans 3:24-26) God wants to be able to justify the sinner without damaging public justice. As the verse says, God wants to be a just justifier.
- That all nations of the world have their own version of a sacrifice of some sort. There have been many types of ransoms offered for souls by every nation under heaven.
- That even the wisest of heathen religions have seen the necessity of animal sacrifices and yet they held the position that God could not forgive sin. This proves that they felt that an atonement was more than just an animal sacrifice, or even a human one for that matter since all humans fall under condemnation of sin. They were unable to under4stand how sin could be forgiven. Islam has no atonement nor do they have an effective way to get sins forgiven.
- That public justice requires either an atonement be made or that the law executes the offender and that would include every offender. God has pledged in writing and also by implication that he regards the public interests so highly that he would administer his government so as to secure, and promote individual happiness.
- God could have required only the execution of law with administration of rewards for the righteous and punishment for the wicked even in a strict administration of public justice. Yet, to more effectively prevent sin and promote holiness which just the infliction of a penalty would not easily do, God elected to provide an atonement as a way of more efficiently meeting the necessities of government.
- Since the fall of man had put man into a relationship with God that was full of obstacles-a relationship of rebels and outlaws, an atonement was needed to remove these obstacles and freely manifest his benevolence toward the race. God, the executive magistrate of the universe, decided that an atonement would be the reason that conditioned his favorable treatment of mankind after they had broken his original law in the Garden of Eden.
- This atonement was also needed to further promote the glory and influence of God in the universe as we shall see later.
- The atonement was needed to provide overpowering motives for repentance and confidence in God.
- The atonement was needed so that when God offered pardon it would not appear like connivance at sin.
- The atonement was important in showing God’s sincerity in His legal enactments.
- The atonement was needed to make it safe to present the offer and promise of pardon to the offenders.
- Natural theology tells that if a lawgiver could actually condescend to men of low estate to such a degree that because of his own regard for the law and also because of his determination to support that law by actually suffering the curse himself to such a degree that it was consistent with his character and relations and also to demonstrate a great lesson that sin cannot be forgiven merely because one is repentant but that the only way to duly execute the law and fulfill the rule of law under his government and satisfy public justice and yet forgive sin, then he could safely forgive sin and remove the penalty from the offender.
- Show the actual facts regarding the atonement. Since the concept of the atonement is given to us by revelation, we must appeal to the Bible, the scriptures to establish the knowledge of this truth.
- The Bible, especially the Old Testament-Jewish Scriptures-attests to the necessity of an atonement which was practice in symbolism on a regular basis by offering up animals symbolic of One who would present Himself in the future as a “lamb of God.”
- The New Testament also gives testimony to the same point, especially where Paul says, “…without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sin.”
“For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and of goats, with water, and scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book, and all the people, Saying, This is the blood of the testament which God hath enjoined unto you. Moreover he sprinkled with blood both the tabernacle, and all the vessels of the ministry. And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission. It was therefore necessary that the patterns of things in the heavens should be purified with these; but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. 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: Nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high priest entereth into the holy place every year with 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. And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.” (Hebrews 9:19-28)
The Bible is quite clear that Christ was God manifest in the flesh. “And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.” (1 Timothy 3:16) We will cite verses that show the vicarious nature of the death of Christ’s death showing that it was for public justice for our sins that his blood was shed. These passages show that the atonement and the redemption that came through is was a matter of understanding and a covenant between the Father and the Son of God.
“I have made a covenant with my chosen, I have sworn unto David my servant, Thy seed will I establish for ever, and build up thy throne to all generations. Selah.” (Psalms 89:3-4)
“Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.” (Isaiah 53:10-12)
“All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me. And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day.” (John 6:37-39)
“I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world: thine they were, and thou gavest them me; and they have kept thy word. Now they have known that all things whatsoever thou hast given me are of thee. For I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came out from thee, and they have believed that thou didst send me. I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine. And all mine are thine, and thine are mine; and I am glorified in them. And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are.” (John 17:6-11)
The next passages will show that if sinners are to be saved at all it must be through an atonement.
“Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)
“Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses.” (Acts 13:38-39)
“Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” (Romans 3:19-20) “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified. But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is therefore Christ the minister of sin? God forbid. For if I build again the things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor. For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God. I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.” (Galatians 2:16-21)
“For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith. And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them.” (Galatians 3:10-12)
“For if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise: but God gave it to Abraham by promise. Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator. Now a mediator is not a mediator of one, but God is one. Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law.” (Galatians 3:18-21)
“Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.” (Galatians 3:24) “And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission. It was therefore necessary that the patterns of things in the heavens should be purified with these; but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these.” (Hebrews 9:22-23)
The following verses show that the death of Christ was a vicarious death and that redemption is through His blood. “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. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:5-6)
“Even as 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)
“For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” (Matthew 26:28)
“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.” (John 3:14-15)
“I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” (John 6:51)
“Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.” (Acts 20:28) “Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: 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.” (Romans 3:24-26)
“Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. 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. And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement.” (Romans 5:9-11)
“Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.” (Romans 5:18-19)
“Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us:” (1 Corinthians 5:7)
“For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;” (1 Corinthians 15:3)
“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)
“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: That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.” (Galatians 3:13-14)
“But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.” (Ephesians 2:13)
“And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour.” (Ephesians 5:2)
“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 if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: 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?” (Hebrews 9:12-14)
“And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission. It was therefore necessary that the patterns of things in the heavens should be purified with these; but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. 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: Nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high priest entereth into the holy place every year with 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. And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.” (Hebrews 9:22-28)
“By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God; From henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool. For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.” (Hebrews 10:10-14)
“Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh;” (Hebrews 10:19-20)
“Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot:” (1 Peter 1:18-19)
“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.” (1 Peter 2:24)
“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:” (1 Peter 3:18)
“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7)
“And ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins; and in him is no sin.” (1 John 3:5)
“Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother.” (1 John 3:9-10)
These are a good many verses but one could quote many more on the subjection of the atonement and the redemption of the race by the death of Christ. This is the great wonder of eternity and the theme of the Bible. No other religion has such love or sacrifice with the God of Creation coming down in human form to die for the offenders of his moral law.
Consider the design of the atonement. We have anticipated this question and state as follows:
- The fact that Christ obeyed the moral law was great and it showed that He was without sin, but doing good works is not the atonement.
- God has put Himself under the same standard as we, obedience to the Moral Law. It was not a choice but a requirement that he be perfectly benevolent as would be required of any moral agent. We can’t take the position that because He is our substitute and lived a perfect life under the law that it absolves us of our responsibility. In that way supererogation does not work. It has to do with our being baptized into His death as it says in Romans: “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin.” (Romans 6:1-7)
- If the fact that Jesus obeyed the moral law worked in a way that it absolved us of the responsibility to live holy, it would have eliminated the need for the atonement. His life of perfection did not take away our responsibility to live after the spirit and mortify the deeds of the flesh. “For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.” (Romans 8:13) What it did was to qualify him as our substitute and thus make the atonement acceptable to God and to public justice.
- Again, if Jesus obeying the law was acceptable as our substitute, then why would God ask us to live according to the spirit and to live a holy life? Why would that be one of the essential ingredients that proves a person has been saved?
- Any who would think that Jesus obeyed the law for us are almost making salvation by works, the works of Jesus. It is as if he must obey and then suffer as if he did not obey, then require our repentance and return to personal obedience. What kind of grace would that be? That would be requiring the debt to be paid many times over which is not grace at all.
- The atonement was not a commercial transaction. Some consider the atonement as a merely business transaction like paying a debt where Christ purchased the souls of men from the Father by paying with the same amount of suffering as those souls would have paid if they had died in hell. Let’s examine this theory:
- If this were true, then Jesus would have been required to satisfy retributive justice. Since we are talking about an eternity of suffering in hell, Jesus would need to suffer in hell forever, multiplied by the number of souls that have lived since the beginning of the world and since suffering is eternal, Jesus would literally have replaced all the souls in hell for all of eternity. This could never happen and it has not happened. God never intended that Jesus spend eternity in the fires of hell.
- Another part of retributive justice is that one suffer until he is no longer guilty and that could never happen under the definitions as we have given them earlier.
- The atonement of Christ was intended to satisfy public justice.
- Moral law is not something that God willed into existence but it is part of his immutable nature. The five senses are a part of our nature, they just are, and they cannot be changed by making new rules for their use. In a similar way, God cannot repeal or alter moral law which is a part of Him. There may be exceptions to moral law as far as the letter is concerned as long as the spirit remains unchanged. God cannot, therefore, repeal moral law or set aside the sanctions of moral law. Changing or repealing the sanctions would be the same as eliminating the law altogether. God could not, nor would he do such a thing. “Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: 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.” (Romans 3:24-26) This passage gives the reason for the atonement. It was given to justify God when He pardons the sin of the sinner. It was given to justify God when He dispenses with the execution of the law. “Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.” (Isaiah 53:10-12)
- Public justice requires-
- That the penalty will be matched to laws that are of equal importance to the precept.
- That when such a penalty is incurred that it will be inflicted for the public good as an expression to show that the lawgiver has a regard for the law that created the penalty. It shows that he is willing to support the public order so that by due administration of justice he has secured the highest well-being of the public. One of the leading reasons for sanctions is prevention, and executing sanctions is demanded by public justice. As we have seen previously, sanctions, remunerative and vindictive, are designed to prevent disobedience and to secure universal happiness. This is done by a revelation of the heart of the lawgiver which simultaneously shows his heart so as to inspire awe and at the same time inspires confidence and love to Him as well.
- Whatever there is that can reveal God, show His hatred of sin, show his love or righteousness, show that He is determined to support moral government and law, and promote the holiness and happiness of his creatures, as execution of his law would do, is the full satisfaction of public justice.
- Atonement is a very influential part, therefore, of moral government. It does not take the place of the execution of law, for that still holds a big place in moral government. Fallen angels and lost souls will experience the full execution of the penalty of divine law. The atonement adds powerful motives to moral law to live holy and keep the law; it gives motives to induce obedience. It can be considered an auxiliary to law which adds to the precept and sanctions an overpowering exhibition of love and compassion.
- The atonement is an illustrious exhibition of commutative justice, where the government of God, by an act of infinite grace, commutes or substitutes the sufferings of Christ for the eternal damnation of sinners.
- The atonement was needed and it was doubtless designed to contradict the slander of Satan. It was Satan that seduced Adam and Eve by claiming by insinuation that God was selfish by forbidding them to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Now the great self-denial of God would refute this slander of Satan even more than the execution of the penalty of God’s law.
- Now confidence in all the offers and promises of pardon by God are inspired by the atonement. No matter how guilty or no matter how selfish a man is, when he views the atonement with Jesus Christ hanging on the cross for him, he cannot help, though deeply convicted of his sin, but believe that God loves him and that his offer and his promise of salvation is really true after all. Only a God of truth and love would offer his own son to die for his enemies. The atonement was needed as the only means of sanctifying sinners:–
- The atonement was needed, not that God needed it to make him more merciful, to reconcile pardon with the due administration of His justice. We will repeat some things that have been said before.
“Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: 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.” (Romans 3:22-26)
We will present several further reasons why the atonement, in the case of the inhabitants of this world, was preferable to punishment; it was preferable to the execution of the divine law. We will add to those already given, some from the Bible and others by inference from what the Bible says with still others from inference by the very nature of atonement itself.
- The prime reason for the atonement was God’s great disinterested love for sinners themselves: “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.” (John 3:16)
- It must also have been his love for the universe since such love would have a profound influence on every living creature in the universe no matter what world they lived upon as long as the fact of the atonement was known to all.
- Substituting the sufferings of Christ for the eternal damnation of sinners so that their suffering might be prevent is a powerful reason. When one looks at the relationship of Jesus Christ to the universe and the atonement can form the expression of God’s hatred of sin on one side and then of his eternal love to all his subjects on the other, the amount of suffering that Christ endured was infinitely less an amount of suffering in Him than would have been inflicted on sinners and yet the influence that it would provide in support of the government of God would be vastly more than the suffering of the offenders would have been. What a powerful picture was given of the lawgiver, Christ Jesus, suffering in behalf of the sinners; it is the lawgiver and executive magistrate suffering in the place of the rebellious ones in his vast empire, taking their punishment. It showed that he would not yield the authority of the law and yet it also showed his great disinterested love for rebellious subjects.
- This substitution gained immense good by restoring the eternal happiness of all that were saved from sin along with augmenting the happiness of all that had never sinned, all because of this glorious revelation from God through the atonement.
- Another reason for the fact that the atonement was a better show of the virtue of God is that the existence of sin gave the opportunity for God to show forbearance, mercy, self-denial, and suffering for enemies on His own power where the enemies for whom He suffered could expect to do nothing in return, making it truly disinterested benevolence. Nothing could be higher than the virtues that God exhibited in the atonement of Jesus Christ. The fall of man was a great opportunity for God to exhibit before the whole universe the depth of all the attributes of benevolence that were in His heart. The estimation in which subjects hold the sovereign is what builds strength and stability for hiss government; it is that which secures the highest confidence of the subjects.
- God desired the atonement over punishing the offenders, also, because He had a desire to lay his heart open for imitation and inspection by moral beings. It would help them to know Him, and as the scripture says to know Him is life eternal.
- Still another reason for desiring the atonement over the penalty for sin is that God prefers mercy whenever it can be safely exercised; the Bible often presents Him as delighting in mercy, as being longsuffering, and willing to “repent” of any evil that he would pour upon the offender. He thus prefers mercy to judgment so that He would willingly be the sinner’s substitute so that because of His atonement He can offer pardon to the offender while still administering justice.
- When God accomplished the atonement, He consulted His own happiness and His own glory so that to deny himself for the salvation of sinners became part of His own infinite happiness. This was always intended by him and thus always enjoyed; it was not selfishness since the well-being of God is of infinite value greater than that of all the universe combined, but it was also true that his happiness and glory is of supreme and intrinsic value and He sought to treat it as such.
- In providing the atonement God did all in His infinite wisdom to promote, with all things considered, the highest degree of universal good.
- The best way to get all creatures in the universe to have the highest possible motives for virtue is through the atonement. A good example gives the highest moral influence that can be exerted. God could not make others benevolent if He could not show the same virtue in Himself. It the sacrificial death demonstrated in the atonement does not subdue selfishness on the part of sinners then they are beyond hope.
- Providing an atonement instead of the penalty for the offenders is a way to produce the highest kind and degree of happiness by leading them to contemplate and imitate His love.
- Under the circumstances of the government of God, to annihilate the wicked would not answer the purposes of government in the matter of preventing sin in the subjects. The best way to do that would be through a revelation of mercy blended with an exhibition of justice which would then promote his character to the universe.
- One of the greatest reasons for the atonement was that it would create holy beings. There is nothing more powerful to encourage confidence, love, and obedience on the part of holy beings than to see the manifestation of love to sinners and rebels.
- Another reason for the atonement would be to confound God’s enemies. What else could silence devils and demons and make all the world stand guilty before a Holy God with their mouths stopped than such a powerful demonstration of love and a willingness to sacrifice for sinners?
- God had a just and necessary regard for His own reputation; that caused Him to prefer the atonement to the punishment of sinners. What else would inspire such an affectionate confidence in God as this? It was most agreeable to God and most beneficial to the universe at the same time.
- The atonement gave God the opportunity to show his kindness for sinners by giving them a means for salvation, forgiving and saving them when they repent without the danger that throughout the universe the inference could be made that He did not have sufficient abhorrence of sin.
- The atonement was also a powerful way to counteract the influence of Satan who had powerfully polluted the world with and promoted selfishness.
- Another reason for the atonement was that God could make the final punishment of the wicked more impressive and extremely more severe in light of the fact that He had offered the love and mercy of God and the opportunity for pardon through the atonement and the only reason that any wicked person could possibly suffer the final punishment is that they had spurned the mercy and love of God. Thus the contrast is much like a white dot on a black background, God’s love versus the punishment of the wicked.
- The atonement is also the highest example in the face of selfishness of true disinterested benevolence on the part of God, His own example. Through the atonement God bears witness against selfish with his selfless gift.
- The atonement more fully satisfies public justice than the execution of law since it shows God’s express regard to the interests of His subjects to the extent that He would go to such extreme lengths in order to offer them mercy thus greatly satisfying public justice.
- The atonement also makes a full demonstration of the attributes of God so that there is a full circle of motives that can influence the minds of all moral beings. Remember, moral beings make choices and understanding more fully the attributes of God makes the choice easier to comprehend and makes God easier to put confidence in.
- The atonement exhibited Christ’s heart to two worlds, the one where He was with the father, and the one where he became flesh with a human nature.
- The atonement was needed because just the fact of executing the penalty for the broken law of God had not and would not arrest the progress of rebellion in the universe as exemplified by the rebellion of Satan and the angels the fell and also by the example of Adam and Eve. Something else was needed to enhance the support for the authority of God’s law, something more than mere execution would do. The problem with having only the execution of law, which does have a strong tendency to prevent rebellion and restrain rebels, is that such execution and control does not subdue the heart in any government, human or divine. The law, as seen in the example of past history, exasperated rebels without confirming holy beings. Paul the apostle said that he had the law but he was still wicked and persecuted the church. He writes that the law was like a school master, it could be used to show the nature of sin and that the carnal mind is not subject to the law of God, neither can be. The law was given to expose the offenders in bright lights so that it might be demonstrated that the only way to save rebels and change their hearts was through the atonement.
- The fact that God had already executed His penalty on the rebellious angels made the holiness and justice of God so prominent that to pursue the same course on the human race without any offer of mercy would have had the injurious influence of creating more fear of God than love of Him and His government. The atonement was thus the way for God to reveal his love and compassion and guard against slavish fear.
- Why else would he not be treated as righteous, He that took on Himself the nature of humans, He that obeyed unto death, and endured such pain and suffering?
- It is a common practice in human governments, a practice which fits the laws of the mind, to rew2ard distinguished public service by conferring favors on the children who rendered the service as if they had rendered it themselves. This has been wisely and successfully done with manifold influence as attested by the experience of many nations.
- The same is true of the Christian world and for the same reason. All Christ’s children who belong to Him are received and treated with favor and the rewards of righteousness as bestowed upon them for His sake. Because of His public service which was rendered for the whole universe, the fact that He laid down his life for the support of the divine government has made it eminently wise that all who are united with Him by faith should be treated as righteous for His sake.
EXTENT OF THE ATONEMENT
Explain the extent of the atonement.
Here we will inquire briefly into the governmental value and bearings of the atonement.
- It is valuable only because it tends to promote the glory of God and the virtue and happiness of the universe.
- In order to understand the value of the atonement, we must understand the following, That–:
- Happiness is an ultimate good.
- Virtue is indispensable to happiness.
- Knowing God is indispensable to virtue.
- Christ, who made the atonement, is God.
- The work of the atonement was the most interesting and impressive exhibition of God that ever was made in this world or in the universe.
- Therefore, the atonement is the highest method of promoting virtue anywhere in the world or in the universe. The value of the atonement is valuable only and so far as it reveals God and tends to promote virtue and happiness.
- The work of the atonement gratifies the infinite benevolence of God.
- This work was eternally designed by God and thus eternally enjoyed.
- Making an atonement with results that God had seen in His foreknowledge has eternally caused great happiness for God.
- Developing and carrying out this wondrous design, the atonement, highly promotes and will promote for all eternity the Glory of God in the Universe.
- The atonement adapts itself to promoting the virtue and happiness of holy angels or of any other moral agents that never sinned; as a stupendous revelation of God it has greatly increased even their knowledge of their great God and thus promotes further virtue and happiness in them.
- The value of the atonement consists in its moral power, the power to promote virtue and happiness, the power of motive. Thus the atonement adapts itself to all moral beings to further prevent rebellion against God throughout the universe because it exhibits God in a light which strengthens confidence in His character and government. The highest of all moral powers is the power of example. Advise has moral power, precept has moral power, sanction has moral power, but the highest of all moral influences is that which can be exerted by the example of one moral being in full view of other moral beings as an example of that which the moral law dictates. One child can be an example to other children. An adult, likewise, can be a moral influence upon others. Great men or angels can have even more powerful moral influence. But the example of God demonstrating moral standards to the entire universe is the most powerful influence of all. The Word of God has power with its threatenings and promises, but it is his example that provides a higher moral influence than all precepts or threatenings. Virtue is demonstrated by benevolence; God requires benevolence and threatens punishment to any who are not benevolent but promises eternal life if they are, that is when they come to know God which makes them benevolent. This all has power but the example of His own benevolence is what shows us his disinterested love and allows us to get a glimpse of Him so that we can know Him. As we have quoted before in this writing, “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” (John 17:3) Knowing Him has a vastly higher moral influence than any other influence in the world. That is also why He has such intrinsic value more than any other living creature in the universe, because to know Him is to provide the motivation for virtue and thus to true happiness. Here we see Him, Christ who is God. In the atonement we have the example of God’s own love, his own compassion, his own self-denial, his own long-suffering, and his own patience under abuse from his enemies. The atonement allows us to view in living color all the perfect forms of virtue that we wish to emulate. We see Him as he labors, weeps, suffers, bleeds, and dies for man. This is not just a high level of revelation of God to mankind, but it is a perfect example of what benevolence would be in our lives if we would follow His example. This is the highest of all moral influence; it is moral omnipotence, accomplishing all that a moral power could accomplish in giving motivation to a moral being. None can conceive a more powerful influence to move, empower, impress, motivate, and comprehend than the love of God in full demonstration in the life of His Son, Jesus Christ. The value of this motivation is seen in moral beings as follows:
- They develop a complacent love to God which depends upon their knowledge of Him.
- Since God is infinite and his creatures are finite, they can thus know Him as he willingly reveals Himself to them. They grow in knowledge the more they know Him.
- The atonement has revealed things that would never be known had it not been revealed to man, even though it had been forever in the mind of God through eternity past.
- Since the atonement is the most powerful revelation of God that there is in the universe, it has increased the holiness and happiness of all holy creatures, both in heaven and on this earth. It has done more than any other revelation and it has lightened the universe, strengthened His government and given an increase to happiness which no other revelation of God could do.
- The true value of the atonement can only be measured by the amount of good that has been done and by the amount of good that will be done in this world. This is the exhibition of God, the supreme ruler of the universe, suffering for His rebellious subjects, which gives boundless value to his relation to his law and to the universe. We said in our discussion of penal sanctions that making known the true designs and character of the lawgiver creates public confidence, makes a public impression, and thus strengthens the influence of the government which ultimately promotes order and happiness. The atonement shows God’s abhorrence of sin, his regard to his law, his determination to support his law, and it also shows his great love for his subjects, his great compassion for sinners, and his willingness to suffer himself in their stead rather than punish them or set aside the penalty with no thought of public justice.
- The atonement can be view in either of two ways, both of which are true:
- Christ as the lawgiver showing his sincerity, love of holiness, hatred of sin, approbation of the law, and compassion for his subjects by laying down his life as their substitute.
- Or, Christ as the Son of the Supreme Ruler with the spectacle of a sovereign ruler giving his only-begotten and well-beloved Son, his greatest treasure, to die a shameful and agonizing death as a testimony of his great compassion for his rebellious subjects, and of his high regard for public justice.
- The atonement has great value in providing for the pardon of sin in such a way that there is no hope of impunity because there is no other way to be pardoned. Either the offender suffers the penalty or he accepts the atonement on the terms that God provides; this is the only way that sin can be forgiven and should rebellion crop out in some other part of the universe the offenders would realize that God means what he says and that one cannot escape the consequences.
- The atonement has settled the question that is prevalent in many other religions, namely, that sin cannot be forgiven simply by repenting of the sin without a corresponding demonstration of the penalty being made to satisfy public justice. Islam is one of the most serious offenders of this principle since Allah claims to forgive the followers of Muhammad with no provision for satisfying public justice. To further exacerbate the problem, followers of Islam are told that they may commit suicide in Jihad as a way of satisfying public justice when what they have actually done is to commit the worst of crimes, not only on innocent victims of suicide bombings, but they also do so in an outright act of murder. They die going straight to hell with no atonement being made for them at all. In addition, they are allowed to commit crimes with impunity because no satisfaction of public justice is made. There is a stark contrast between a culture under Christian principles and one under Islamic principles. The evidence is obvious for all to see. Their culture sees nothing wrong with rape, murder, rebellion, insurgency, disruption, anarchy, and any other method of furthering their heinous causes around the world. This is why this religion is obviously one spawned by Satan himself and could very well be the religion of Anti-Christ.
- We can see by this that the value of the atonement is infinite. Christ, the Savior of the world is also the Savior of the universe in a sense. When rebellion broke out in heaven among the angels, God judged them and sent them to hell with no atonement. It was obvious that the penalty for rebellion was not strong enough to prevent the rebellion. Now rebellion appears in this world and because of the atonement, announced at the first sin to Adam and Eve and then perfected in the death of Christ, has shown the whole universe that no only is the law of God and its penalties in tact, but now the rebels can be reclaimed and reformed. The atonement has opened up the very heart of God to the whole universe in a miraculous way that shows God as refusing to allow rebellion but also that he has provided for the penalty in such a way that the rebel can be reclaimed. This creates confidence in God as never before and for all ages to come throughout all parts of the universe, God will be had in high esteem for this wondrous plan to save a rebellious race from an eternal hell.
For whom was the atonement intended?
- Since God’s own glory and happiness provide the greatest good for the universe and since for that reason God does all things for himself to bring himself glory, the atonement was made to satisfy him. “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.” (John 3:16) God was benefited by the atonement because his happiness comes from contemplation, execution, and obtaining the results of the atonement, souls saved.
- The atonement was made for the universe. From its very nature, all holy beings are and must be benefited by it because it gives them a higher knowledge of God than they could ever have had before; it is better than the knowledge that could be gained in any other way. The atonement is the greatest work that God could ever work for the universe. It is the most blessed, excellent, and benevolent act that has been done in all of eternity for the purpose of His subjects and also to help all come to know Him better. Even angels are described as looking into the atonement and the inhabitants of heaven have a very high level of interest in all facts relating to the atonement since it displays God’s character in a more vivid way than ever before.
- The atonement is especially beneficial for the inhabitants of the world since it is calculated to benefit them more than any other creature in creation. It reveals God’s heart to man showing that all of mankind can be pardoned if they can only view the atonement in such a way as to be affected by it in the way so many have, with changed lives.
- Contrary to some theologians, Christ tasted death for every man. “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.” (Hebrews 2:9)
- The atonement has benefited the whole human race since without the prospect of it, no one would have lived past Adam and Eve who would have died to pay for their own sin of disobedience in the Garden of Eden. We owe our very existence to the atonement.
- Had it not been for the atonement, the creatures of the universe could never comprehend why man would be treated with mercy when fallen angels were cursed to the fires of hell.
- All the blessings which mankind enjoys, God waiting on sinners, answers to prayer, blessings, mercies, great personages in history, miracles for all to see, the scriptures and much more are all owed to the atonement.
- The greatest part about the atonement is that God offered it to all mankind, indiscriminately. It was a true case of disinterested benevolence. “Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:4) “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9) “Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.” (1 Timothy 2:6) “I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men;” (1 Timothy 2:1) There are some that teach that the atonement was limited but this is not taught in scripture. If it were true that atonement is limited then God is not disinterested nor is he benevolent nor does he abide by the moral law which would make Him the worst kind of tyrant. Perhaps it is because of this false teaching that so many have problems seeing the intrinsic value of believing in and coming to know God. They perceive God as a ruthless tyrant that arbitrarily chooses only those whom He fancies and is more than willing to wholeheartedly damn the remainder of the populous into the fires of hell for no other reason than his selfish partisan reasons. The perception that this portrays is not God at all but a ruthless tyrant.
- Sinners are universally condemned if they do not believe and receive the atonement. “He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:18)
- If the atonement were not for all mankind then how could we not regard God as insincere by not making the offer of an atonement to some while making the offer to others?
- If the atonement was not for all mankind then sinners in hell would know that they were never intended to be saved and that God never did offer them salvation which could never promote the holiness of all the universe or their confidence in Him who is partial in his gift of salvation. Likewise how could those who had received the offer have confidence in a God that was partial in His offer to them while rejecting others for apparently no reason?
- The problem with a partial or limited atonement is that if the atonement is not for all men then no one can know for whom it was intended or if they did, it would take a direct revelation. Because of this we find the following:
- If the atonement was made for only part of mankind then no one would know if they should accept the offer or not or if they have a right to do so. They would then expect God to give them a direct revelation that He has chosen them to be one of the elect. If God did not make the revelation the inclination would be to blame God for any that do not receive the offer since the responsibility for all choice would be in the hands of God and not man. It would also mean that men are not moral creatures since they have no opportunity to make that kind of a choice.
- If the atonement was made for only part of mankind then it would be totally worthless unless there were some revelation that made it clear to whom it was made.
- If the atonement was not made for all men then ministers would not be able to preach to offer it since they would have no idea to whom they should make the offer and soul-winners would not be able to go out into the highways and byways like the Bible teaches because they would not know who among the populous was the chosen few that God had chosen to receive the atonement.
- If ministers do not believe that the atonement was made for all men then they cannot really make a hearty and honest presentation of the Gospel and then press people to receive it either in their congregation or in the world at large; the reason that they cannot offer the atonement is that they would never if it were meant for those to whom they were making the offer. They would have no more assurance that it was for that individual than it was for Satan himself.
It is hard to understand how some can teach that for fallen angels the atonement was not made but that for some men it was made and that if a person will believe then he will have it revealed to him if it were for him or not. So, let me ask the question. If a person is to believe then what is to be the condition of his salvation? Would he simply believe that an atonement was made for some men and believing that would he then have saving faith? How could anyone embrace such a doctrine and make it a personal thing so that he could commit himself individually to it? Even if he did believe it was for someone and perhaps for him then under what authority would he make the decision that by believing this possibility and expecting God to make a revelation to him that it was, in fact, made for him? The only true evidence that one could have would be the Bible since that is the only revelation that is available for all men. How could a person possibly believe such a mysterious position and what are they to believe after all? According to this position the only thing that is taught in the Bible is that an atonement is made for some men. Is that saving faith? No, it is not. A person has a right to know if it was for him that Christ died. If he does not know, then how can he have saving faith? A person would have no advantage over Satan since Satan knows that the atonement was not made for him but the lost sinner has no idea at all if it were for him or someone else. How could a person have trust or confidence in God under those circumstances? Would they not constantly be discussing the doctrine of the elect just to give themselves a hope that they were among that crowd that was chosen? Let’s look at the scriptures:
“The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29)
“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. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.” (John 3:16-17)
“And said unto the woman, Now we believe, not because of thy saying: for we have heard him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world.” (John 4:42)
“Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.” (Romans 5:18)
“For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.” (2 Corinthians 5:14-15)
“Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.” (1 Timothy 2:6)
“For therefore we both labour and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, especially of those that believe.” (1 Timothy 4:10)
“And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:2) The scripture is quite clear, Jesus died for all men, not just the elect as some claim.
Not only did Jesus die for all men or is the atonement sufficient for all men which makes it a general atonement and not a particular one, but we can see that the invitations and the promises of the gospel are addressed to all men who are freely offered salvation through Christ Jesus.
“Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else.” (Isaiah 45:22)
“Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness. Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David.” (Isaiah 55:1-3)
“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
“Again, he sent forth other servants, saying, Tell them which are bidden, Behold, I have prepared my dinner: my oxen and my fatlings are killed, and all things are ready: come unto the marriage. But they made light of it, and went their ways, one to his farm, another to his merchandise: And the remnant took his servants, and entreated them spitefully, and slew them. But when the king heard thereof, he was wroth: and he sent forth his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city. Then saith he to his servants, The wedding is ready, but they which were bidden were not worthy. Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage. So those servants went out into the highways, and gathered together all as many as they found, both bad and good: and the wedding was furnished with guests. And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment:” (Matthew 22:4-11)
“And sent his servant at supper time to say to them that were bidden, Come; for all things are now ready. And they all with one consent began to make excuse. The first said unto him, I have bought a piece of ground, and I must needs go and see it: I pray thee have me excused. And another said, I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to prove them: I pray thee have me excused. And another said, I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come. So that servant came, and shewed his lord these things. Then the master of the house being angry said to his servant, Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in hither the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind. And the servant said, Lord, it is done as thou hast commanded, and yet there is room. And the lord said unto the servant, Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled. For I say unto you, That none of those men which were bidden shall taste of my supper.” (Luke 14:17-24)
We can see here in the last two passages that the “elect” did not want to come so the offer was made to any and all who would willingly come.
“In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink.” (John 7:37) “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” (Revelation 3:20)
“And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.” (Revelation 22:17)
Now not only was the atonement made for all and not only does God offer it to all, but God actually makes an argument in which he chides them for not accepting his invitations to receive the atonement.
“Wisdom crieth without; she uttereth her voice in the streets: She crieth in the chief place of concourse, in the openings of the gates: in the city she uttereth her words, saying, How long, ye simple ones, will ye love simplicity? and the scorners delight in their scorning, and fools hate knowledge? Turn you at my reproof: behold, I will pour out my spirit unto you, I will make known my words unto you.” (Proverbs 1:20-23)
“Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land:” (Isaiah 1:18-19)
“Thus saith the LORD, thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel; I am the LORD thy God which teacheth thee to profit, which leadeth thee by the way that thou shouldest go. O that thou hadst hearkened to my commandments! then had thy peace been as a river, and thy righteousness as the waves of the sea:” (Isaiah 48:17-18)
“Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?” (Ezekiel 33:11) “
Hear ye now what the LORD saith; Arise, contend thou before the mountains, and let the hills hear thy voice. Hear ye, O mountains, the LORD’S controversy, and ye strong foundations of the earth: for the LORD hath a controversy with his people, and he will plead with Israel. O my people, what have I done unto thee? and wherein have I wearied thee? testify against me.” (Micah 6:1-3)
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.” (Matthew 23:37-39) Here we see the “elect” refusing to come and we also see that the grace of God was not irresistible, even in the face of the Messiah Himself.
Listen to the sincerity of God when He gives His invitations:
“O that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children for ever!” (Deuteronomy 5:29)
“O that they were wise, that they understood this, that they would consider their latter end!” (Deuteronomy 32:29)
“For thou art not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness: neither shall evil dwell with thee.” (Psalms 5:4)
“Oh that my people had hearkened unto me, and Israel had walked in my ways! I should soon have subdued their enemies, and turned my hand against their adversaries. The haters of the LORD should have submitted themselves unto him: but their time should have endured for ever.” (Psalms 81:13-15)
“O that thou hadst hearkened to my commandments! then had thy peace been as a river, and thy righteousness as the waves of the sea:” (Isaiah 48:18)
“For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord GOD: wherefore turn yourselves, and live ye.” (Ezekiel 18:32)
“And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it, Saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes.” (Luke 19:41-42)
“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. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.” (John 3:16-17)
“I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:1-4)
“The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)
Again, when we hear some talk of “irresistible grace” we quote from the scripture where God complains for sinners rejecting his overtures of mercy:
“Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded;” (Proverbs 1:24)
“But they refused to hearken, and pulled away the shoulder, and stopped their ears, that they should not hear. Yea, they made their hearts as an adamant stone, lest they should hear the law, and the words which the LORD of hosts hath sent in his spirit by the former prophets: therefore came a great wrath from the LORD of hosts. Therefore it is come to pass, that as he cried, and they would not hear; so they cried, and I would not hear, saith the LORD of hosts:” (Zechariah 7:11-13)
“The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king, which made a marriage for his son, And sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding: and they would not come. Again, he sent forth other servants, saying, Tell them which are bidden, Behold, I have prepared my dinner: my oxen and my fatlings are killed, and all things are ready: come unto the marriage. But they made light of it, and went their ways, one to his farm, another to his merchandise: And the remnant took his servants, and entreated them spitefully, and slew them. But when the king heard thereof, he was wroth: and he sent forth his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city. Then saith he to his servants, The wedding is ready, but they which were bidden were not worthy. Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage. So those servants went out into the highways, and gathered together all as many as they found, both bad and good: and the wedding was furnished with guests.” (Matthew 22:2-10)
“Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you. Yet a little while, and the world seeth me no more; but ye see me: because I live, ye shall live also. At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you.” (John 14:17-20)
“And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life.” (John 5:40)
“Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye.” (Acts 7:51)
“And as he reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, Felix trembled, and answered, Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee.” (Acts 24:25)
Then, if one were to claim as some do that God chooses sinners to go to hell and the “elect” to go to heaven, one has to wonder why God would represent sinners as having no excuse for being lost and not being saved by Christ:
“And he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless.” (Matthew 22:12)
“For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:” (Romans 1:20)
“And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life.” (John 5:40)
“Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.” (Romans 3:19)
Now we wish to answer objections.
- Some object to the fact of an atonement; they say that the doctrine of an atonement shows God as unmerciful because he sent his own Son. Here is the answer:
- The problem with this objection is that the one objecting is assuming that the atonement satisfies retributive justice instead of public justice. There is a vast difference as we have seen previously.
- The truth is that the atonement shows God’s mercy since He wished to pardon and to do that He gave His Son as a substitute for sinners so He could pardon them.
- Contrary to what this objection states, the atonement is the most illustrious exhibition of mercy that was ever made in the history of the universe. There very fact that God could or even would pardon sin is a miracle in itself, but that He could not do so without an atonement shows even more powerfully just what His disposition was to display the atonement for all to see as a display of His love.
- Next, some object that the atonement is unnecessary. Take a look at the world situation. Many cultures even have sacrifices for sin which they would never have if they perceived in their spirit. They are universally conscious of being sinners and under the government of a God that hates sin. Their spirit demands some form of punishment for sinners or some form of offering to satisfy public justice. The very fact that they all consider that a substitution is conceivable and as a result offer a sacrifice makes the objection unfounded. Heathen philosophers could answer this objection.
- Some say that the doctrine of the atonement is inconsistent with the idea of mercy and forgiveness. Our reply is this:
- To say that is to take for granted that the atonement was a literal payment of a debt so that when Christ died, he literally paid the debt that was due for all sinners which would make the pardon of sinners an act of justice and not an act of mercy. God does not view the atonement in this vein. The atonement is for public justice and not for retributive justice as we have previously stated. The suffering of Jesus Christ was merely to show the intention of God to execute the penal sanction of his law so that the amount of suffering, though great, was not really the amount of suffering that would have been inflicted on all the wicked from all generations.
- The punishment which sinners should receive was deserved by them, whether or not Christ suffered for them. It is the punishment that was just and fit the penal sanction of the law. They had no reason to expect mercy for any reason within the boundaries of the law.
- The forgiveness of sinners was as much an act of mercy even though Christ died as if there were no atonement. No one deserves mercy. The atonement only made the act of mercy consistent with public justice. No one forced God to offer mercy. He certainly did not do it for angels or for the devil.
l Some object to the atonement because, they say, punishing an innocent being instead of the guilty is unjust in and of itself.
- It not only be unjust but it would also be impossible to punish an innocent moral agent at all for any reason because punishment implies guilt. An innocent being may be able to suffer but he cannot be punished. The Bible says that Christ suffered, “….the just for the unjust…” “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:” (1 Peter 3:18) Any moral agent has a right to exercise self-denial and voluntary consent. This is just what Christ did so there was no injustice done to anyone. He willingly gave his life.
- If Jesus had no right to make the atonement then he had no right to consult with and to promote his own happiness or that of others. The Bible puts it this way: “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2)
- Some say that the doctrine of the atonement is just too incredible. We might answer that it is incredible, almost impossible to believe, except for the love of God. This is why the Bible says that the love of Christ “…passeth knowledge.” “And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:19) If the love of Christ passes knowledge then it would not be inconsistent with that kind of love to expect him to make an atonement. In fact, it would be the most reasonable act in the universe.
- Some object to the atonement because, they say, it has a demoralizing tendency.
- Let us make a distinction between a natural tendency of a thing and abusing a good thing in such a way as to make it the instrument of evil. Sometimes good things and good doctrines are abused and their doctrines perverted.
- There may be some that abuse the doctrine of the atonement but the tendency that develops is not demoralizing. What it does is to manifestly display God’s infinite disinterested love. Does this create enmity? Does love cause hate? On the contrary, love has a tendency to excite love in return.
- We might say that the proof is in the pudding. Those who have accepted the atonement generally display the most pure morality that has ever been in the history of the world while those who reject the atonement, almost without exception, display loose morality. This is completely due to the great moral influence of the atonement.
- Those who object to a general atonement make the claim that Christ laid down his life for his sheep, which would be for the elect only, and not for all mankind.
- The Bible may say that Christ laid down his life for the sheep but it also says that he died for all mankind.
“And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:2) “For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.” (John 3:17) “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.” (Hebrews 2:9)
- Anyone that objects to the doctrine of the atonement as being a general atonement as it clearly states in the Bible do the same thing that Unitarians do in their denial of the Trinity and the Divinity of Christ. Unitarians quote only the passages that agree with their theory while ignoring the rest and thus think that they have proven their hypothesis. This is not really a scientific or even a logical approach to the subject. It shows partisanship which is a trait of selfishness as shown in earlier chapters. To those who believe in limited atonement we say that we believe that Christ laid down his life for His sheep as well but we also believe that he “tasted death for every man.” “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.” (John 3:16)
- Some object to the atonement on the grounds that it would be wrong for God to provide what he know would be rejected and for Christ to die for those who, as he would see in his foreknowledge, would not repent; they say it would be a useless expenditure of blood and suffering on the part of Jesus.
- Again we must point out that the atonement was not a literal payment of a debt. That is not the nature of the atonement. It was to satisfy public justice.
- Even though sinners do not accept the atonement, the fact that God has offered it to all greatly enhances his character in the universe, strengthens his government and benefits the universe in general. It is not necessary for everyone to accept the atonement for it to benefit all.
- Again, if every man rejected the atonement it would still be of infinite value in showing the glorious love of God and would stand out as the most wonderful revelation of God that was ever made.
Some object to a general atonement because, they say, it implies universal salvation. Again we must point out that this implies the literal payment of a debt. We should stress here that the only way a literal payment of the debt that every man owes would be for Christ to go to hell and literally suffer an eternity for every man in the full amount of suffering that each man would receive if they had suffered it themselves. Unfortunately there are those who hold to the doctrine of Universalism which uses this false position to teach that if Christ died for all mankind it means that he paid the debt in suffering the exact amount of sin that each man would need to suffer and with that assumption they conclude that every man will be saved and that no one will go to hell. Any logical person can see where that logic leads. Even the Bible says that Christ, “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.” (Hebrews 2:9) It was the death that was important, not the kind or amount of suffering. What Jesus did satisfied public justice only! The argument fails completely when faced with the facts.
There is in response to our argument here a position that if the atonement was only general and not the payment of a debt for sinners, then it secures the salvation of no one. We again point out that this is not an act of justice but of mercy so that the atonement only allows God to promise salvation, which he does and thus we have the security that when the Bible says “whosoever will” it applies to all who believe.
GENERAL REMARKS ABOUT THE ATONEMENT
- The fact that God executed rebel angels created a great awe in all of heaven.
- The execution of angels would tend to generate fear more than anything.
- The fact that God was patient, showing great forbearance, before the act of the atonement should have helped to counteract the tendency toward fear and generally began to pave the way for the show of compassion demonstrated by the atonement.
- It is when sinners realize that Jesus actually died as their substitute that they give up their enmity against God. The fact that God’s love is truly disinterested causes a heart belief which results in subduing their enmity.\
- The fact, as we have just stated, that enmity is difficult to subdue before seeing the love of God, shows just how strong unbelief is in creating prejudice against God.
- But faith in the atonement of Christ brings down a mountain of weight that crushes and melts the cold hard heart of a sinner so that he can have confidence in God.
- This is why the blood of Christ, when one sees it and comprehends what it will do, cleanses from all sin.
- The forbearance of God that exists all through the Bible is better explained by the atonement than any other thing; it increases the wonder, admiration, love, and happiness of the whole universe.
- God’s means of saving mankind produces this effect upon all.
- To some degree forbearance could have no virtue if it went beyond certain limits. It would instead be manifestly injurious and therefore wrong. This degree of forbearance would create the impression that God is not holy and opposed to sin. That would create an infinite amount of mischief in the universe.
- One day when the forbearance of God has fully demonstrated his great love by doing all it can to sustain the moral government of God, he will throughout all ages make parallel displays of justice and mercy by setting heaven and hell in eternal contrast as we can see in the book of Revelation.
- Then the law and the gospel will be seen as a harmonious system of moral government that developed in the fullest manner the glorious character of God.
- From these facts we can see the absolute necessity of having faith in the atonement of Christ and precisely why the gospel is truly the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth. It the atonement is not believed in then that unbelieving spirit has no revelation at all. If the gospel has no revelation or belief in the mind of the spirit then the gospel has no moral power.
- The atonement tends to produce in the believer, in the highest manner, a spirit of entire and universal consecration to God.
- The atonement shows just how solid is the foundation of any saint so that he can have unbroken and eternal repose and confidence in God. If God could provide an atonement for sinners then no one could possibly suppose that he will hold back anything from a believer that would do them a world of good.
- We can see why selfishness is such a great hindrance to faith because a selfish mind has a hard time comprehending the atonement, a state of mind that smacks in the face of selfishness, disinterested love that sacrifices for the good of others; a selfish mindset finds it all hard to believe and thus hard to comprehend the disinterested love of God.
- The atonement allows perfect administration of justice in the pardon of sinners who deserve penal sanctions for breaking the law.
- The atonement, when made by the lawgiver, magnifies his law to the point that the law becomes even more honorable and influential than it would have been with nothing more than the execution of the penalty upon sinners.
- The atonement helps to achieve the goals of moral government more than any other thing. The weight of such a moving manifestation of God’s love influences the law more than anything that angels or men have ever seen or will see.
- The atonement brings to full circle all the motives of government and fills up the revelation of God in a most wondrous way. Without the atonement a part of God would be unknown by all the creatures of the universe.
- The atonement glorifies God above all his other works and ways.
- The atonement is the source of God’s purest and most exalted happiness.
- The atonement is a way to give benevolence to state criminals.
- The atonement unites God to human nature in a new and special way.
- It has opened the way of having access to God in a way never before opened to any of God’s creatures before.
- It has abolished the pain of death in the body because with the atonement is the promise of a resurrection. “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” (1 Corinthians 15:22)
- One of the greatest things about the atonement is that the life of God is restored to the spirit of a man where the Holy Spirit dwells as He makes the body His temple.
- Now there is a new method of salvation and moral renovation that has made Christ the head of a new covenant, all because of the atonement.
- Now Jesus is our surety: “By so much was Jesus made a surety of a better testament.” (Hebrews 7:22)
- Now the public sentiment is strong against rebellion so that it is crushed whenever the atonement is comprehended and applied by the power of the Holy Spirit.
- The atonement has made possible the offer of pardon of all sinners of our race.
- The atonement has without a doubt added to the happiness of heaven.
- It has developed more fully the very nature and importance of the government of God.
- The atonement has allowed the exposure of the development of sin to be widely known by contrast to the love of God.
- The existence of an atonement has allowed the development of sin to a new level, one that actually spurns the very hand that offers pardon.
- With the existence of the atonement the total depravity and utter madness of sinners is now exposed more than ever before.
- The atonement with the attendant development of sinful depravity has also shined a bright light on the long-suffering and forbearance of God in light of the evil.
- The atonement has made the union between God and man more intimate than with any other creature in the universe.
- It has allowed human nature as energized by the Holy Spirit and touched by the love of God to elevate to a level of kings and priests.
- Because of the atonement new fields of usefulness, areas of creativity, a higher general level of society in the world and other areas in which the love of God may be used to the highest plane of doing good.
- The atonement has further developed and brought to light the wondrous doctrine of the trinity.
- It has given revelation of the most influential way of developing a working method of government.
- The atonement has developed in us various laws of our own being that give the strength and morality on which government depends.
- The atonement is a wonderful standing illustration, a portrait in living color that shows the true intent, meaning, and excellence of the character and law of God. It has given us a living example to see and follow.
- The atonement has defined in a fully illustrated way the nature of virtue and given the universe a demonstration of what true disinterested benevolence is.
- When contrasted with the love shown in the atonement, selfishness has been entirely exposed as being inconsistent with and totally opposite of virtue.