by Arthur W. Pink
The death of Christ, the incarnate Son of God, is the most remarkable event in all history. Its uniqueness was demonstrated various ways. Centuries before it occurred it was foretold all an amazing fulness of detail, by those men whom God raised up in the midst of Israel to direct their thoughts and expectations to a fuller and more glorious revelation of Himself. The prophets of Jehovah described the promised Messiah, not only as a person of high dignity and as one who should perform wondrous and blessed miracles, but also as one who should be “despised and rejected of men,” and whose labors and sorrows should be terminated by a death of shame and violence. In addition, they affirmed that He should die not only under human sentence of execution, but that “it pleased the Lord to bruise Him; HE hath put Him to grief” (Isa. 53:10), yea that Jehovah should cry, “Awake, O sword, against My Shepherd, and against the man that is My Fellow, saith the Lord of hosts: smite the Shepherd” (Zech. 13:7).
The supernatural phenomena which attended Christ’s death clearly distinguishes it from all other deaths. The obscuration of the sun at midday without any natural cause, the earthquake which clove asunder the rocks and laid open the graves, and the rending of the veil of the temple from top to bottom, proclaimed that He who was hanging on the Cross was no ordinary sufferer.
So too that which followed the death of Christ is equally noteworthy. Three days after His body had been placed in Joseph’s tomb and the sepulchre securely sealed, He, by His own power (John 2:19; 10:18), burst asunder the bonds of death and rose in triumph from the grave, and is now alive forevermore, holding the keys of death and hades in His hands. Forty days later, after having appeared again and again, in tangible form before His friends, He ascended to heaven from the midst of His disciples. Ten days after, He poured out the Holy Spirit, by whom they were enabled to publish to men out of every nation in their respective languages, the wonders of His death and resurrection.
As another has said, “The effect was not less surprising than the means employed to accomplish it. The attention of Jews and Gentiles was excited; multitudes were prevailed upon to acknowledge Him as the Son of God, and the Messiah; and a church was formed, which, notwithstanding powerful opposition and cruel persecution, subsists at the present hour. The death of Christ was the great subject on which the apostles were commanded to preach, although it was known beforehand that it would be offensive to all classes of men; and they actually made it the chosen theme of their discourses. I determined, Paul said, ‘not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ and Him crucified’ (I Cor. 2:2) ... “In the New Testament, His death is represented as an event of the greatest importance, as a fact on which Christianity rests, as the only ground of hope to the guilty, as the only source of peace and consolation, as, of all motives, the most powerful to excite us to mortify sin and devote ourselves to the service of God” (Dr. John Dick).
Not only was the death and resurrection of Christ the central theme of apostolic preaching and the principal subject of their writings, but it is remembered and celebrated in heaven: the theme of the songs of the redeemed in glory is the person and blood of the Saviour: “Saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing” (Rev. 5:12). “The Atonement made by the Son of God, is the beginning of the ransomed sinner’s hope, and will be the theme of his exultation, when he shall cast his crown before the throne, singing the song of Moses and of the Lamb” (James Haldane).
Now it is evident from all these facts that there is something peculiar in the death of Christ, something which unmistakably separates it from all other deaths, and therefore renders it worthy of our most diligent, prayerful and reverent attention and study. It behooves us by all that is serious, solemn and salutary, to have just and right conceptions of it; by which is meant not merely that we should know when it happened, and with what circumstances it was attended, but that we should most earnestly endeavor to ascertain what was the Saviour’s design in submitting to die upon the Cross, why it was that Jehovah smote Him, and exactly what has been accomplished thereby.
But as we attempt to approach a subject so important, so wonderful, yet so unspeakably solemn, let us remember that it calls for a heart filled with awe, as well as a sense of our utter unworthiness. To touch the very fringe of the holy things of God ought to inspire reverential fear, but to take up the innermost secrets of His covenant, to contemplate the eternal counsels of the blessed Trinity, to endeavor to enter into the meaning of that unique transaction at Calvary, which was veiled with darkness, calls for a special degree of grace, fear and humility, of heavenly teaching and the humble boldness of faith. Our prayerful hope is that He who is pleased to use ciphers (I Cor. 1:28) to promote His glory, may condescend to grant us now a special measure of the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and deign and to bless this book to not a few of those whom God has loved with an everlasting love.
What has Christ done in order to secure the salvation of sinners? What is the import of that death of His on which salvation hinges? In the outset we may be fairly warned of what must be the consequences of submitting the question to human reason or of bringing the world’s wisdom into the inquiry.
“The preaching of the Cross is to them that perish foolishness, but unto us which are saved it is the power of God” (I Cor. 1:18). To which the apostle added, “But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; but unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.” In view of these statements, it was an easy matter for bygone generations of the saints to anticipate what would be the inevitable result when the wisdom of the world, which was fully arrayed against the Gospel which Paul preached, should be constituted its interpreter, or should presume to accommodate it to worldly principles.
Sixty years ago Mr. James Inglis, writing in “The Waymarks of the Wilderness” on “The Atonement,” said,
When we remember that the Atonement is the most important subject which can engage the minds of either men or angels: that it not only secures the eternal happiness of all God’s elect, but also gives to the universe the fullest view of the perfections of the Creator: that in it are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, while by it are revealed the unsearchable riches of Christ: that through the very Church which has been purchased thereby is being made known to principalities and powers in the heavenlies the manifold wisdom of God (Eph. 3:10) — then of what supreme moment must it be to understand it aright! But how is fallen man to apprehend these truths to which his depraved heart is so much opposed? All the force of intellect is less than nothing when it attempts, in its own strength, to comprehend the deep things of God. Since a man can receive nothing except it be given him from heaven (John 3:27), much more is a special enlightenment by the Holy Spirit needed if he is to enter at all into this highest mystery.
“Great is the mystery of godliness” (I Tim. 3:16). Amazing beyond all finite conception is that transaction which was consummated at Golgotha. There we behold the Prince of Life dying. There we gaze upon the Lord of Glory made a spectacle of unutterable shame. There we see the Holy One of God made sin for His people. There we witness the Author of all blessing made a curse for worms of the earth. It is the mystery of mysteries that He who is none other than Immanuel, should stoop so low as to join together the infinite majesty of Deity with the lowest degree of abasement that was possible to descend into. He could not have gone lower and be God. Well did the Puritan Sibbes say, “God, to show His love to us, showed Himself God in this: that He could be God and go so low as to die” (Vol. 5, p. 327).
To what source then can we appeal for light, for understanding, for an explanation and interpretation of the Cross?
Human reasoning is futile, speculation is profane, the opinions human are worthless. Thus, we are absolutely shut up to what God has been pleased to make known to us in His Word.
If it be true that we can know nothing about the origin of the old creation save what the Holy Scriptures reveal — the wild and conflicting guesses of science “falsely so called” (I Tim. 6:20) only serving to make this the more evident — then much more are we entirely dependent upon the teaching of Holy Writ concerning the foundation on which the new creation rests. In his splendid work on “The Atonement” (1867) Dr. A. A. Hodge rightly affirmed, “I insist that, as the Gospel is wholly a matter of Divine revelation, the answer to the question, What did Christ do on earth in order to reconcile us to God? be sought exclusively in a full and fair induction from all the Scriptures that teach upon the subject. From a survey of all the matter revealed on the subject, what, in the judgment of a mind unprejudiced by theories, did the sacred writers intend us to believe? The result of such an examination, unmodified by philosophy or secular analogies, is alone, we insist, the true redemptive work of Christ.”
Well did this deeply-taught servant of God say, “unmodified by secular analogies.” The truth of God has been grossly perverted, the honor of Christ grievously sullied, and the people of God (who were too lazy to diligently study the Scriptures for themselves) have often been misled by the superficial efforts of irreverent preachers, who sought “Illustrations” from the imaginary analogies in human relations. For example: the case of a criminal is cited, in whose character there is no redeeming trait, who is condemned to death for his aggravated crimes. When he stands upon the scaffold, the Queen of England is supposed to send her son and heir to die in the villain’s stead, that he may again be turned loose upon society. Yet this monstrous and revolting supposition was offered last century as an illustration of John 3:16 in the discourse of a popular preacher of wide reputation.
But while no parallel to the great transaction of the Atonement, or to the relations of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is to its accomplishment, can be found in any of the relations of mere creatures to one another, God has graciously adopted a series of types, historical and ceremonial, to the illumination of His great plan, and especially to the illustration of the various aspects of the offices and work of Christ. In these, Divine wisdom is signally displayed. By means of the typical system God was educating men for the “good things to come,” and preparing human language to be a fitting medium for the revelation of His grace in Christ. By introducing the Levitical system God has shown us the sense in which such words (in the New Testament) as sacrifice, priesthood, propitiation and redemption, are to be understood. We cannot here give an exposition of these types, our purpose in referring to them here simply being to call attention to the fact that they supply the needed key to unlock this New Testament mystery.
That which is outstandingly prominent in the typical sacrifices of the Old Testament is, first, that they were offered to God, having Him for their object and end, instead of being pageants for making impressions on men. Second, that they are expiatory, atoning for sin, blotting out iniquities. Third, that just as the sins of the offerer were imputed to the victim, so the excellency of the victim was ascribed to the offerer. Fourth, that something more was effected by these offerings than an atonement being made for sins — a satisfaction was offered to God’s holiness and justice. This leads us to call attention to the title for this book, and here we cannot do better than give below a digest from Dr. Hodge’s able comments on this point: —
During the latter part of the nineteenth century the word “Atonement” became commonly employed to express that which Christ wrought for the salvation of His people. But before then, the term used since the days of Anselm (1274), and habitually employed by all the Reformers, was “Satisfaction.” The older term is much to be preferred, first, because the word “Atonement” is ambiguous. In the Old Testament it is used for an Hebrew word which signifies “to cover by making expiation.” In the New Testament it occurs but once, Romans 5:11, and there it is given as the rendering for a Greek word meaning “reconciliation.” But reconciliation is the effect of the sin-expiating and God-propitiating work of Christ. On the other hand, the word “Satisfaction” is not ambiguous. It always signifies that complete work which Christ did in order to secure the salvation of His people, as that work stands related to the will and nature of God.
Again: the word “Atonement” is too limited in its signification for the purpose assigned to it. It does not express all that Scripture declares Christ did in order to meet the complete demands of God’s law. It properly signifies the expiation of sin, and nothing more. It points to that which Christ rendered to the justice of God, in vicariously bearing the penalty due the sins of His people; but it does not include that vicarious obedience which Christ rendered to the precepts of the law, which obedience is imputed to all of the elect. On the other hand, the term “Satisfaction” naturally includes both of these. “As the demands of the law upon sinful men are both preceptive and penal — the condition of life being ‘do this and live’ while the penalty denounced upon disobedience is, ‘the soul that sinneth it shall die’— it follows that any work which shall fully satisfy the demands of the Divine law in behalf of men must include (1) that obedience which the law demands as the condition of life, and (2) that suffering which it demands as the penalty of sin.”
May the Lord graciously fit both writer and reader to contemplate and apprehend this wondrous theme in such a way that much fruit may issue to His glory and praise.
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