The Atonement of Christ: It's Necessity, it's Nature, it's Results


The Cross of Christ, the atoning death of the Son of God, is the central doctrine of the Gospel, and fundamental to the Christian faith. In the glad tidings proclaimed by Paul, he delivered, "First of all," how that "Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures" (1 Corinthians. 15:3). "The sufferings of Christ" (1 Peter 1:11) were ordained in eternal purpose (Acts 4:28), and are essential to His work as Savior. That "the Son of Man must be lifted up" (John 3:14), that "He Must suffer" (Mark 8:31), that all which was written "must be accomplished in Me" (Luke 22:37), was the Lord's own testimony concerning His death. And that death was not only to be as a martyr for righteousness, but as "a ransom for many" (Matthew. 20:28).


The whole testimony of the Word proclaims the fact that "without shedding of blood is no remission" (Heberws. 9:22). The language of the types, the voices of the prophets, the experiences of the Psalms, the records of the evangelists, and the teachings of the apostles unite in setting forth Christ as the one Great Sacrifice for sin, by which satisfaction has been rendered to God, and through which salvation has been procured for men.

In order to have a just view and a full appreciation of the atonement of Christ as set forth in the Scriptures, it is necessary to have a proper estimate of sin, not only as it affects the sinner in its results, but in its relation to a righteous and holy God. When sin is lightly thought of, or a personal sense of its guilt is lightly thought of, or a personal sense of its guilt is wanting, the doctrine of the Cross will be little valued. Errors on this and kindred subjects may all be traced to unscriptural or shallow views of sin, and to flippant language regarding its nature and retribution. Sin is the cause of all man's woe, yet the one think he seeks to ignore or belittle.


The word "atonement" has been etymologically described as "at-one-ment." It occurs only once in the New Testament (Romans 5:11), and there it is imperfectly rendered, the margin and R.V. giving it correctly "reconciliation" - whereas in Hebrews 2:17, "reconciliation" ought to be "atonement." ATONEMENT is something made Godward; reconciliation is the result manward. The world "propitiation" occurs in 1 John 2:2 and 4:10 only. In Romans 3:24-25, another word is used, and is rendered "mercy seat" (Hebrews. 9:5). Propitiation is the New Testament equivalent to "atonement" in the Old. The Mercyseat or Propitiatory was the throne of Jehovah, upon which the Cloud or Shekinah of Glory appeared. There, on that golden slab, with its crown around and cherubim on either end, once a year the blood of atonement was sprinkled (Leviticus. 16:15, 30), and on this ground Jehovah dwelt among the people, and was able to say, "there will I meet with thee" (Exodus. 25:11). So Christ crucified, the Propitiation and also the Propitiatory, is the appointed meeting-place between a righteous God and guilty sinners in virtue of the blood of the Cross. Thus it was that the publican of old came to God, not appealing for mercy apart from righteousness, but taking his place before God, convicted yet confiding, and said, "God be merciful" (or "make propitiation" - the same word as in Hebrews 2:17) "for me, THE sinner" (Luke 18:13). The propitiation is "for THE WHOLE WORLD," the ransom given is for ALL (1 Timothy 2:6), and in virtue thereof any and every sinner, however vile, who comes to God in the appointed way - "through faith in His blood" (Romans 3:23) - will, as surely as the publican, be "justified freely by His grace" (Romans 3:24), "justified from all things" (Acts 13:39).

It is on the ground of atonement made and satisfaction rendered by the death of Christ, that there is a Gospel to preach to "every creature" (Mark 16:15), and that salvation is brought within the reach of all. Yet, only in the acceptor, the believer is this salvation a present possession.


Man is spoken of in the Scriptures as an accountable being, in relation to God and His government. His fallen condition is there described, his ruin defined. Sin is "missing the mark," "coming short" of a standard. It is transgression, the breach of known commandment. It is guilt, the violation of Divine law, bringing retributive punishment. It is defilement, unfitting him for the presence of a holy God. Men judge by outward and overt acts, as they must, for they cannot read the heart; but the All seeing God, to whom all things are naked and open, describes sin in its source and spring, and His Word concerning it is: "Sin is lawlessness" (1 John 3:4), rebellion against His throne - in a word, self- will. Unregenerate man is a rebel, and regarded by God as an enemy (Romans 5:10). His mind is enmity against God (Romans 8:9), his nature depraved and distorted in every region, himself "godless" (Ephesians 2:12), and fallen under the authority of Satan (Acts 26; 18), the usurper, whose willing slave and tool he is. Moreover, he is "without strength" (Rom. 5:6) to deliver himself, and no man can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him (Psalm 49:7). And this depravity, this guilt, makes the sinner amenable to judgment; and "the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23).


The work of the Spirit in the world, throughout this age of grace is to "convict" men "of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment." These words are lightly disposed of by many, as if they meant no more than remorse for wrongdoing, such as a criminal feels when he is found out, or a gambler or speculator when he has lost his all. That men reap as they sow is a law of universal application, but its operation does not discover sin in its strength, or lead to its acknowledgment before God. This is the conviction the Spirit works in the soul. He brings the sinner face to face with God; He brings sin to the conscience in its enormity as committed against the Holy One, and raises the cry: "Against Thee, Thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Thy sight" (Psalm 51:4). Righteousness describes the character of His throne, and just Judgment is the same result. Must the sinner perish without hope? Or can the Just One become the Justifier of the ungodly? Man can give no answer to this: he stands with closed mouth, without resource. Man's extremity is God's opportunity. A Savior- God appears. His answer is "Deliver him from going down to the pit; I have found a Ransom" (Job 33:24). This was fulfilled at the Cross, when the Son of God gave Himself "a Ransom for all" (1 Timothy 2:4). The believer stands, under its account, "justified by His blood" (Romans 5:9).The rejecter or neglecter who despises the provided meeting-place, passes on to judgment for his sins (Colossians. 3:6), with the added guilt of despising the remedy (John 3:18; Hebrews. 10:29).


The Old Testament word caphar means "to atone," "to cover," and points to the expiatory character of the Lord's death. He appeared once in the end of the world to "put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself" (Heb. 9:26). The Baptist testified of Him: "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). Expiation, or covering by sacrifice, is the primary meaning of atonement. The same word is rendered "pitch" (Gen. 6:14) as used of that which covered the gopher wood of Noah's Ark, and preserved all within it from the waters of judgment. "Appease," in Genesis 32:20, used of Jacob's present to Esau, his offended brother, designed as atonement for past offences. "Ransom," in Exodus 30:12, of the atonement money paid by Israel to protect them from the plague and give them a title to be numbered among the people of God. "Satisfaction," in Numbers 35:31, where no ransom, no atonement, was to be accepted for the release of a murderer from the death penalty of his crime. All these words express, in varied ways, the meaning of atonement, and point onward to a work affected once for all in the offering up of the Great Sacrifice on Calvary.


The testimony of the types, the language of the prophets, the teaching of evangelists and apostles, is uniform and harmonious that atonement is by blood shed. Not the warm life-blood coursing through the veins, but blood shed, life poured out, the effusion of blood as the evidence of death. The Levitical rubric, "The life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar, to make atonement for you souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul" (Leviticus. 27:11), tells how and where atonement was made, the words "blood" and "altar" clearly pointing to sacrificial death, foreshadowing the Cross. "Another Gospel," which better suits man's pride and more accords with "the dignity of human nature," denies all this, and sneers at it as a "religion of the shambles," a relic of heathendom, offering in its stead a humanitarian religion of self-sacrifice, of which Christ is said to be the Pattern and Example, and His life infused (which is the meaning they give to "the blood") the power for moral purification and Christian conduct. In this theory, the moral suasion of man, and a new motive brought into his life, is uppermost in view. But it takes no cognizance of human guilt; it utterly ignores sin as it affects the throne and majesty of an offended, holy God. Nor does it provide any satisfaction or expiation Godward, or procure any legal deliverance from the curse - the death-sentence - manward. It is generally associated with a denial of man's ruin, unscriptural views of Christ's Divinity, and denial of the punishment of the wicked. It is aptly described by Jude as "the way of Cain" (v. 11), who was the first to come to God as a worshipper ignoring the fall, apart from the blood of a sin offering, bringing the fruit of his own toil instead, as religious sinners do now their works, on the ground of the "Fatherhood of God," apart from redemption and regeneration.


The glory of God, the majesty of His throne, outraged through sin; the restoration to Him of that of which man had robbed Him; the vindication of His righteousness in "passing over" (Romans. 3:23) the sins of men of faith in ages past, who, convicted of their guilt, had cast themselves upon His "forbearance," in view of the redemption to be wrought by coming Deliverer; in brief, the Divine claim - not man's need, but God's honor - was the first, the chief consideration in the atoning death of the Son of God. "He offered Himself without spot to God" (Hebrews. 9:14). He gave Himself "an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet smelling savor" (Ephesians. 5:2). Like the burnt or "ascending offering," He was wholly laid upon the altar, and all that He was and did went up to high heaven, accepted as a sweet savor.

In another aspect, God was the provider of the Lamb (Genesis 22:8); He did not spare, but gave His Son (Romans 8:32). He it was also who brought Him to death (Psalms 22:15), who caused the sword to awake against Him (Zech. 13:7), who Himself put the awful "cup" into His hand (Matthew 26:39, 42). In the sin-offering, the victim was regarded as charged with the sin laid upon it, and consumed in devouring fire outside the camp. So He who, in Himself personally, was ever the Holy One, in whom God was well pleased, was made to be sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians. 5:21). It was not, as is sometimes unwisely said, "the innocent dying for the guilty," which would be unjust; but the Holy One, who knew no sin, so charged with the sin of others as to vicariously suffer for and expiate it by His death.


The words used in the New Testament in connection with the death of the Lord Jesus, and descriptive of the results flowing from it, may be divided into two groups. First, those which describe that which the atonement has rendered to God and procured for men as men, for the world as such; second, the blessings it has secured for those who have received the Gospel, and who, by faith in the Lord Jesus and new birth by the Spirit, have been brought into a new relationship with God, saved by grace, and accepted in the Beloved, in whom they share all the blessings and benefits of "the everlasting covenant," and stand before God in all the value of His perfect work and peerless person. The confusing of these two aspects of the work of Christ leads to many erroneous expressions in presenting the Gospel to sinners and the truth to saints.

In the wider aspect, He is "a ransom for all" (1 Timothy. 2:4); the "propitiation for the whole world" (1 John. 2:2). It is on this ground that the Gospel is preached to "all creation under heaven" (Colossians. 1:23), that God proclaims "forgiveness of sins" (Acts 13:38) to all, without respect of persons, that the invitation to "whosoever will" is to "take the water of life freely" (Revelation 22:17). No sinner who has heard the Gospel can ever lay the blame of his damnation at God's door, or plead as an excuse that there was no salvation provided for him. The death of Christ, which was "for (on account of) our sins" (1 Corinthians. 15:3), for the ungodly (Romans. 5:6), has procured salvation for all, and it is proclaimed unto all in the Gospel. To those who receive the reconciliation, and by faith become identified with Christ, other blessings are made known, procured by and flowing from the one Great Sacrifice of the Cross. "They have redemption through His blood" (Ephesians 1:7), and this includes deliverance by power, as well as by price; they are loosed from their sins (Revelation 1:5); they are justified (Romans 5:10), and sanctified (Hebrews 13:12) through His blood. Their sins, which were borne in His own body on the tree (1 Peter 2:28), are so completely purged (Hebrews 1:3) that they are remembered no more (Hebrews 10:17), and they, as worshippers, once purged, stand before Him in peace, having "no more conscience of sins" (Hebrews 10:2). All this, and much more, becomes the present inalienable possession of all who by faith pass into the family of God (John 1:12), and become sharers in the benefits which flow from the one great sacrifice of Calvary.

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