By Aaron Hills
FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLES OF MORAL 1AW AND GOVERNMENT-ATONEMENT A FACT
1. Moral law is not founded in the mere arbitrary will of God or any other being. These essential distinctions of duty and obligation, right and wrong, are primary truths of the Divine Mind, and of all other minds whom He had made in His image. They are entirely independent of God's will. These moral laws have their foundation in the nature and relation of moral beings.
2. As the, will of no being can create moral law, so the will of no being can annul it. It is as eternal and as necessary as the nature of God Himself. It will necessarily last as long as moral beings last. It is simply that rule of action -which is most conducive to the well-being of the moral universe. It could not be other than it is.
3. God, by His essential and infinite pre-eminence, is the rightful and necessary ruler of the moral universe. In the necessity of the case He must rule, and no other can take His place.
4. In administering His government, the infinite executive, is essentially committed to administer the laws in support of public order, and for the promotion of public morals, to reward the innocent with His favor and protection, and to punish the disobedient.
5. All the subjects of the divine government are interested in its administration. Wherever the law is violated, every subject is injured and his rights are invaded; and each and all rightly expect the government to execute the penalties of law as the public good demands.
6. "There is an important distinction between retributive and public justice. Retributive justice consists in treating every subject of government according to his character. It respects the intrinsic merit or demerit of each individual, and deals with him accordingly. PUBLIC JUSTICE, in its exercise, consists in the promotion and protection of the public interests, by such an administration of law, as is demanded by the highest good of the public. It implies the execution of the penalties of the law where the precept is violated; unless something else is done that will as effectually secure the public interests. When this is done, public justice demands, that the execution of the penalty shall be dispensed with, by extending pardon to the criminal. Retributive justice makes no exceptions, but punishes without mercy in every instance of crime. Public justice makes exceptions, as often as this is permitted, or required by the public good. Public justice is identical with the spirit of the moral law, and in its exercise, regards only the good of being. Retributive justice cleaves to the letter, and makes no exception to the rule, "the soul that sinneth it shall die."
7. It is a fact well established by the experience of all ages and nations, that the exercise of mercy, in setting aside the execution of penalties, is a matter of extreme delicacy and danger. The influence of law is found to depend very much upon the certainty felt by the subjects that it will be duly executed. It is found, in experience, to be true, that the exercise of mercy in every government, where no atonement is made, weakens government, by begetting and fostering a hope of impunity in the minds of those who are tempted to violate law" (Finney's Theology, pp. 259, 260). From January, 1907 till April, 1910, Governor Pattison of Tennessee pardoned 856 criminals, 152 of them being murderers. So crimes flourish, the government is dishonored, law is broken down, and the governor is covered with lasting disgrace before the civilized world. It would be the same with God if he should govern the universe in the same way. "Ma Ferguson," Governor of Texas, pardoned three thousand criminals and so cursed Texas, and disgraced herself for all time.
8. "Hence, "If God would dispense with, the execution of penalties, public justice requires that He shall see that a substitute for the execution of law is provided, or that something is done that shall as effectually secure the influence of law, as the execution of the penalty would do. He cannot make exceptions to the spirit of the law. Either the soul that sinneth must die, according to the letter of the law, or a substitute must be provided in accordance with the spirit of the law."
9. "So, if mercy is to be exercised, it should be on a condition that is not to be repeated.
The thing required by public justice is, that nothing shall be done to undermine or disturb the influences of law. Hence it cannot consent to have the execution of penalties dispensed with, upon any condition that shall encourage the hope of impunity in crime. Therefore, public justice cannot consent to the pardon of sin but upon condition of an atonement, and also upon the assumption that atonement is not to be repeated, nor to extend its benefits beyond the limits of the race for whom it was made, and that only for a limited time. If an atonement were to extend its benefits to all the worlds, and to all eternity, it would nullify its own influence, and encourage the universal hope of impunity, in case the precepts of the law were violated. This would be infinitely worse than no atonement; and public justice might as well consent to have mercy exercised, without any regard to securing the authority and influence of law" (Finney's Theology, pp. 260, 261).
The foregoing principles which we have laid down seem to be of unquestionable validity. They lay a basis for the unfolding of the great doctrine of the atonement. They make it plain what a problem God had on his hands, if He would gratify His love by an expression of mercy to a race of sinners.
The profoundest interests of the whole moral universe were involved.
(1) There was the honor of God himself as the infinite moral ruler. He must act with infinite wisdom. There must be no stain upon His honor, no spot upon the sun of His glory, no just reflection upon His moral integrity.
(2) His authority as a moral ruler must be preserved. The whole moral realm would go to wreck if once the authority of God was broken down by unconquered and unpunished rebels against His government.
(3) The most sacred rights and the highest welfare of all holy moral beings were involved. Where are they to find protection and security if their Ruler is defied with impunity, His majesty is insulted, and His holy laws trampled in the dust?
(4)Sin would gather increased strength and virulence, let it once be known that it would be surely pardoned by a weakly indulgent God, who held His scepter with a nerveless hand.
(5) Righteousness would be humiliated and disgraced, and the good and virtuous would be covered with derision, if it were certainly known that God looked upon the good and evil alike with aimless, weak-minded, indulgent good-nature, and would require no atonement to express his abhorrence of sin, and his respect for his law and government.
II. ATONEMENT. To atone means to make reparation, compensation, amends or satisfaction for an offense or a crime.
An atonement means expiation, satisfaction or reparation made by giving an equivalent for an injury, or by doing or suffering that which is received in satisfaction for an offense or injury. In theology it means the expiation of sin made by the vicarious sufferings of Christ.
In the Old Testament, the verb is Kaphar-to cover, to make a covering (Num. 5:8; Ex. 29: 36, 37). There are fifty other passages in which this verb is found. The noun from this verb was the name of the lid or cover of the Ark of the Covenant, and constituted what was called the mercy-seat. Beneath this were the Tables of the Law. On this cover or mercy-seat, the blood of atonement was sprinkled, as if thus to cover the honor of the broken law of God, and the honor of God himself.
In the New Testament, the Greek word is Katallage (Rom. S: 11 and 2 Cor. 5: 18, 19). It is translated in the new version, "reconciliation." It means "restoration to favor." The verb is Katallasso, meaning "to change, or exchange," then to reconcile. It conveys the idea of substitution, something being exchanged or substituted for something else that brings reconciliation.
Now this atonement was something arranged for and appointed by God, and by its various uses we arrive at the following definition.
"THE ATONEMENT IS THE GOVERNMENTAL SUBSTITUTION OF THE VICARIOUS SUFFERINGS OF CHRIST FOR THE PUNISHMENT OF SINNERS." It is a covering of human sins from avenging wrath, and of God's character and law and government from dishonor by the suffering of Jesus Christ-"the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world" (Finney).
Miley's briefest definition is the following: "The atonement consists in the sufferings of Christ as a provisory substitute for penalty in the interest of moral government."
In another passage he states it a little more fully thus: "The vicarious sufferings of Christ are an atonement for sin as a conditional substitute for penalty, fulfilling, on the forgiveness of sin, the obligation of justice and the office of penalty in moral government."
(1) Notice the sufferings of Christ are vicarious. A vicar is one who acts for another. Vicarious, means performed or suffered in the place of another. And so here it means that Jesus voluntarily suffered for sinners under condemnation for sin that they might be saved.
(2)Notice, further, they are a substitute FOR PENALTY; not in penalty-Christ's punishment substituted for ours. The holy Christ could not be punished, and His voluntarily assumed suffering, were in no sense a penalty. As both definitions declare, "the vicarious sufferings of Christ were a substitute FOR penalty."
(3)Once more notice, Christ's sufferings were a conditional substitute. Christ died for our sins: but whether His death really becomes a substitute for our punishment is conditioned upon our repentance and faith. We may madly cling to our sins and then the penalty will take its course just as if Jesus had not died.
(4) And so the atonement was a provisory measure of government, making it possible for God to offer to forgive sinners with honor to Himself and His law, on proper conditions. But the atonement, in itself alone, does not save anybody. It simply makes it possible for God to offer to save everybody. Therefore it was only a provisory expedient.
III. THE FACT OF AN ATONEMENT.
This is purely a matter of revelation. And so we safely appeal to the infallible Word. The whole Jewish Scriptures in their laws and prophecies, and ceremonies were full of this idea of Atonement. The New Testament -holds up Christ as the fulfillment of all law, the realization of all prophecy, the explanation of all sacrifices.
Isaiah declared, "Yet it pleased Jehovah 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 Jehovah shall prosper in His hands. He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by the knowledge of Himself shall my righteous servant justify many; and 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 poured out His soul unto death, and was numbered with transgressors; yet He bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors" (Isaiah 53: 10-12).
"Even the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many" (Matt. 20: 28). "This is my blood of the New Testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins" (Matt. 26: 28). "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). "This is the bread that cometh down out of heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. I am the living bread which came down out of heaven; if any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever: yea, and the bread which I will give is my flesh, for the life of the world" (John 6: SO, 51). "While we were yet sinners Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8). "Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God set forth to be a propitiation, through faith in His blood to show His righteousness because of the passing over of the sins done afore time in the forbearance of God . . . that He might himself be just and the justifier of him that hath faith in Jesus" (Rom. 3: 24-26). "For our Passover also hath been sacrificed even Christ" (1 Cor. 5: 7). "Him who knew no sin He made to be sin on our behalf; that we might become the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Cor. 5: 21). "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us; for it is written cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree" (Gal. 3: 13).
"How much more shall the blood of Christ who through the Eternal Spirit, offered Himself without spot unto God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? . . . Apart from the shedding of blood there is no remission. It was necessary therefore that the copy of the things in the heavens should be cleansed with these; but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these" (Heb. 9: 14, 23). "Knowing that ye were redeemed, not with corruptible things, with silver or gold . . . but with precious blood, as of a lamb without spot, even the blood of Christ" (1 Pet. 1: 18, 19). "Because Christ suffered for sins once, the righteous for the unrighteous that He might bring us to God" (1 Pet. 3: 18). "Who His own self bare our sins in His body upon the tree, that we having died unto sins might live unto righteousness; by whose stripes ye were healed" (1 Pet. 2: 24). "The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin" (1 John 1:7). "And He is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the whole world" (1 John 2:2). "God sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins" (1 John 4: 10). "Christ also, having been once offered to bear the sins of many" (Heb. 9: 28).
Thus in every possible form of statement the death of Christ is set forth in Scriptures as the vicarious sacrifice, as an atonement for our sins. It is remarkable in how many ways the doctrine is taught. It is emphatically the great central theme of the Bible.
1. And it is well to notice how it is stated. There is salvation only through Christ. He is not only a way to be saved; but he is the way, and THE ONLY "WAY by which any one can be saved."And in none other is there salvation; for neither is there any other name under heaven, that is given among men, wherein we must be saved" (Acts 4: 12).
2. It is salvation through a suffering Christ. "Christ also hath once suffered for our sins" (1 Pet. 3: 18). "Unto him that loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood" (Rev. 1:5). There are those who sneer at what they call "the gory theory of the atonement," and "slaughter-house theology"; but this is the Bible kind and the only -way to heaven which God has ever revealed. We are not writing a theology to please the infidel critics. We care nothing for their opinions or their sneers. We are writing a theology to please the LORD OF GLORY who died that we might not die. His redeeming death was declared to be necessary. "Thus it is written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day; and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name among all nations" (Luke 24:46, 47). It was a salvation for the people of all nations, bought by the precious blood of Christ.
3. It is the only real explanation of the sufferings of Christ. Why should the holy one suffer till He sweat blood? And pray in almost death agony, "O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me"? But it could not pass, if sinners were saved. There must be an atonement in awful suffering made by the Holy One or the world is lost.
4. The saving faith that brings salvation witnesses to the atonement. We are saved by faith in Christ. And it is not faith in His goodness, nor in His obedience, nor in His example, nor in His wisdom, nor in His unique personality--though all these were appropriate and essential to Jesus. IT IS FAITH IN THE ATONEMENT OF CHRIST THAT SAVES. "Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation, THROUGH FAITH IN HIS BLOOD" (Rom. 3: 25). "Here the forgiveness of sin in through the propitiatory blood of Christ as its GROUND, and on faith therein as its CONDITION. Faith could not be so required were not the blood of Christ a true and necessary atonement for sin" (Miley, Vol. II, p. 73). Right here we learn what saving faith really is. JUSTIFYING FAITH APPREHENDS THE BLOOD OF CHRIST AS A PROPITIATION FOR SIN, TRUSTS DIRECTLY THEREIN, AND RECEIVES FORGIVENESS AS THE IMMEDIATE GIFT OF GRACE.
5. We see the peculiar feature of Christ's religion. He differed from all other founders of religion in His unique personality as God-man. He put His soul and life into His religion so completely, that WHAT HE is, His RELIGION is. So Christianity differs from all other religions just as He differs from all other founders of religion.
The Christian religion is unique because it saves from sin and sinning and brings peace WITH God and likeness TO God. The sinner is saved by Christ because through faith in the Atoning Savior, sin is taken away, peace with God is secured, and the regenerating and sanctifying power of Christ comes into the life."
"Most of all is Christ a unique Savior, in that He saves us by the sacrifice of Himself. The salvation is not in His divinity, nor, in His humanity, nor in His unique personality as the God-man, nor in the lessons of religion which He taught, nor in the perfect life which He lived and gave to the world as an example, nor in the love wherewith He loved us, nor in all the moral force of life, and lesson, and love combined, but IN His CROSS-IN THE BLOOD OF HIS CROSS AS AN ATONEMENT FOR SIN.
The voice of revelation is one voice, ever distinct, unvarying, and emphatic in the utterance of this truth . . . Christ is a Savior through an atonement in His blood" (Miley, Vol. II, p. 78). "No other one ever put His own life and blood into the efficiency of His religion. No other is or can be such a Savior as Christ."
IV. Other Confirming Terms. The fact of the atonement is witnessed to by other terms of kindred signification. For instance,
1. Reconciliation. "For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son" (Rom.5: 10). This refers to persons under God's displeasure and judicial condemnation. The reconciliation is brought about "by the death of his Son." The assurance of salvation lies in the fact of such reconciliation.
There was a difficulty in the way of peace between the holy Governor of the universe and a rebel race. It was primarily on the divine side. The difficulty arose from God's character and law and government. So "God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not reckoning unto them their trespasses" (2 Cor. 5: 19) If God does not reckon our sins against us and duly punish them, then He must in some other way express His abhorrence of our sins, and by some other method protect His law and government. This He did by the gift of His son. There was then a rectoral ground for forgiveness. Wherefore the reconciliation received through Christ, is God's placing all mankind, ever since the fall, under grace, procured for them through the atonement of Christ in which the pardon of sin is offered, to them with eternal life, on condition of repentance and faith.
2. Propitiation. "To be propitious is to be disposed to forgiveness and favor. To propitiate is to render an aggrieved or offended party clement and forgiving. A PROPITIATION is that whereby the favorable change is wrought." This idea is conveyed in the Old Testament. "But he being merciful forgave their iniquity and destroyed them not; yea many a time turned he his anger away, and did not stir up all his wrath" (Ps. 78: 38).
"And Jehovah passed by before him and proclaimed Jehovah, Jehovah, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in loving kindness and truth; keeping loving kindness for thousands, forgiving iniquity, and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty" (Ex. 34: 6, 7). Here are the sinners conscious of their ill-desert in view of their sins, and here is the holy God propitious in a disposition to forgive.
The New Testament gives the reason. "Whom God set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood" (Rom. 3: 25). In other words the atoning death of Christ is the ground of this divine clemency. "He is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the whole world" (1 John 2:2). "He sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins" (1 John 4: 10). As a ruler, God could not be lenient toward sinners, until an atonement made it possible.
3. Redemption. To redeem is to purchase back, to ransom, to liberate from slavery, captivity, or death by the payment of a price. Lutron is the price paid, a ransom. Lutroo-to release, deliver, liberate, redeem. Lutrosis-the redemption, liberation, deliverance. Christ buys us not from Satan, as used to be supposed, for he never had any rightful ownership of us, but from the claim of the broken law, from the demands of offended justice, from the penalty of disobedience-from sin and death. We are sinners under divine condemnation. The redemption through Christ, and in His blood, is in order to our justification, or the forgiveness of our sins. It is the satisfaction to public law and public justice upon which God consents to remit the sentence. The redemption is from the penalty of sin-from the curse of the law.
The Scripture is very plain and striking. "The Son of Man came not to be ministered unto but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many" (Matt. 20: 28). "Who gave himself a ransom for all" (1 Tim. 2:6). "For ye were bought with a price" (1 Cor. 6: 2O). "Ye were redeemed . . . with precious blood" (1 Pet. 1: 18, 19). "Who gave Himself for us that He might redeem us from all iniquity" (Titus 2: 14). "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us" (Gal. 3: 13). "That He might redeem them that were under the law" (Gal. 4: 5). "In whom we have redemption through His blood-the forgiveness of sins" (Rom. 3: 24).
In these passages there is the element of substitution. The vicarious sufferings of Christ are substituted for the penalty of sin as having an equal or superior rectoral value. This is the reality of the atonement, by substitution in suffering.
The moving cause of redemption is the love of God. (John 3: 16).
The procuring cause is the substitutional death of Christ (Matt. 2O: 28; 2 Cor. 5: 21).
The end of redemption is to keep sinners out of hell, and restore in them the image of God.