Taken and adapted from, “The Atonement”
Written by Alexander Hodge

three-uses (1)

BUT if the law is immutable, and if its demands are personal, how can the legal relations of one person be assumed by another, and all of his legal obligations be vicariously discharged by the substitute instead of the principal?

In order to throw light upon this question, I propose the following considerations. The Theologian Turretin, well noted the fact that the relations which men sustain to the law may be discriminated under three heads –the natural, federal, and penal relations.

1   To every created moral agent in the universe the law of absolute moral perfection sustains a uniform and constant natural relation as a standard of character and rule of actionIn this relation the law is absolutely perfect and absolutely changeless. All that is moral is eternally and intrinsically obligatory on all moral agents.

All that is not obligatory is not moral. And every particular and every degree in which any moral agent comes short of the standard of perfect moral excellence in being or action is of the nature of sin. The demands of the law therefore are everywhere and always the same; they are inherently, and therefore changelessly, obligatory and incapable of being either intermitted, relaxed, or transferred. In respect to this natural relation to the law therefore, Christ did not, and from the nature of the case could not, take our law-place. In respect to the inherent and inalienable claims of right, it is purely impossible that the obligations of law can be removed from one person and vicariously assumed by another. The law in this relation maintains forever inviolable all its claims over all moral creatures whatever; equally over angels and devils, men unfallen, fallen, regenerate, in perdition, and in glory. The hideous heresy of the Antinomians consists in the claim that Christ has in such a sense fulfilled all the claims of law upon his people that they are no longer required to live in conformity to it in their own persons. This abominable heresy the entire Church has always consistently rejected with abhorrence, maintaining that the immutability of the law and the changeless perpetuity of its claims is a principle lying at the foundation of all religion, whether natural or revealed.

2   The federal relation to the law, on the other hand, has respect to a period of probation, into which man was introduced in a condition of moral excellence, yet fallible; and his confirmation in an immutably holy character, and his subsequent eternal blessedness is made to depend upon his obedience during that period.

It appears to be a general principle of the divine government

(1) that every moral agent is created holy, yet
(2) in a state of instable moral equilibrium, and hence
(3) that confirmation in an estate of stable holiness is a divine gift, above those included in the natural endowments of any creature, and always
(4) suspended upon the condition of perfect obedience during a period of probation. As a matter of fact, this is precisely the relation to the law as a covenant of life, into which Adam (and all his descendants in him) was brought at his creation.

He was created holy, yet fallible, and for a period of probation put under the law as a test of obedience. Upon this obedience his character and condition for eternity were made to depend. If he had obeyed for the period prescribed, he would have attained the reward. The granting of that reward would have confirmed him in holiness, and by thus rendering him impeccable, would have closed his probation and removed him from under the law in this federal relation forever, while his subjection to the same law, in its natural relation, would have been continued and confirmed. We know that the angels have passed through a probation not essentially different. They were created holy, yet fallible, for some did fall. And all who stood at the first appear to have been consequently confirmed in character and the enjoyment of divine favor; since there is no intimation that any have since fallen into sin, and since we cannot believe that it is God’s plan that any of his sinless creatures should continue permanently or even indefinitely in that state of unstable equilibrium in which they were created. We may therefore assume it to be a general principle of the divine government that every new created moral agent is introduced into being holy, yet fallible, and subjected to the law as a covenant for a period of probation, conditioning upon perfect obedience ultimate confirmation in holiness and divine favor forever.

It is evident that this federal relation to the law is in its very nature temporary in any event, being inevitably closed, ipso facto, either by giving the reward in case of obedience, or by inflicting the penalty in case of disobedience. It is evident also that this relation to the law has a special end: not the demanding of perpetual obedience because of its intrinsic rightfulness, but demanding it as a test for a definite period, to the end of an ultimate confirmation of a holy character, which confirmation will terminate the relation itself by securing the end for which it was designed. Hence this federal relation to the law, unlike the natural relation, concerns not at all the unchangeable demands of personal holiness, but simply those conditions upon which God’s favors are to be shown. And hence, unlike the natural relation, the federal is neither intrinsic, perpetual, nor inseparable from the person concerned. Although, of course, it is ultimately founded upon the essential righteousness of the divine nature, yet all the variable conditions of the probationary period and test are evidently largely dependent upon the divine sovereignty, and the relation itself ceases as soon as the trial is closed, either by the grant of the reward or the infliction of the penalty; and, if God pleases, the whole relation may be sustained by a substitute, and its obligations discharged vicariously, as was the case in the instances of Adam and of Christ.

3   The penal relation to the law is that which instantly supervenes when the law is violated.

As shown above, the penalty is an essential element of the law, expressing the essential attitude in which absolute righteousness stands to transgression, just as the perceptive element of the law expresses the attitude in which that righteousness stands to the moral condition and action of the subject. Whenever, therefore, the law is violated by disobedience, the penalty instantly supervenes, and continues for ever until it is fully exhausted in, strict rigor of absolute justice.

It is consequently obvious that the penal and federal relations to the law are naturally mutually exclusive. The instant a moral agent incurs the penalty his federal relation to the law necessarily terminates, because the end of that relation –that is, his confirmation in a holy character –has definitely failed. Adam was created under the natural and the federal relation to law. When he sinned he continued under the natural, and passed from the federal to the penal, where his non-elect descendants remain for all eternity. And it is just here that with respect to the elect the infinitely gracious mediation of Christ intervenes. If it were not for the sovereign supervention of a gracious upon a purely legal economy, they would of course be left, with the rest of mankind, to the just consequences of their sin. Their probation having been abused, the promised confirmation in holy character having been forfeited, nothing but the penalty remains.

But in behalf of the elect, Christ comes as the second Adam, assumes and graciously continues their federal relation to the law just at the point at which Adam failed. If he undertakes their case, there is a need that he assumes both their obligations to obedience, which was the original condition of their being raised to a stable equilibrium of moral character and receiving the adoption of sons, and their obligations to penal sufferings incurred by their disobedience. The law in its natural relation of course remains binding on them as before, while they are forever released from all obligation obey it as a condition of life, and are confirmed in an immutable stability both of character and happiness through the vicarious discharge of all of their original obligations by their Substitute.

When we say that Christ as our Substitute assumed our law-place, the specific thing that we mean is, that he became the federal head of the elect under the Covenant of Redemption, which provided for his assuming in relation to them all the conditions of the violated Covenant of Works. The federal headship of Christ presupposes the federal headship of Adam. The latter is the necessary basis for the former, and the work and position of the former can be understood only when it is brought in mental perspective into its true relation to the latter.

The solution of the question as to the true nature of the federal headship of Adam becomes, therefore, an essential element as to the nature of the Atonement.

The apostle declares that the principles upon which sin and misery came upon the race through Adam are identical with those upon which righteousness and blessedness come upon the elect through Christ. No man can entertain false views as to the former without perverting his faith as to the latter.

The Perfection of the Atonement

Taken and adapted from, “The Atonement”
Written by, Francis Turretin
Translated by James R. Wilson


In discussing the perfection of the Atonement, we contend for a doctrine that is denied by the Romanists…

They indeed pretend to hold the unity and perfection of the satisfaction of Christ; and often exclaim that great injustice is done them; when they are charged with maintaining that “Christ by his sufferings did not make a full and complete satisfaction for our sins:” (Bellarmine; Book II. concerning Indulgences; chapter 14); while in reality they; in many ways; weaken and overturn this doctrine; by maintaining that it must be confined to sins committed before baptism and to the pollution of sin: but that it does not extend to punishment either temporal or eternal.

In order to ascertain distinctly the question; we observe; that a satisfaction made to God is of a nature different from a satisfaction made to man. Among men; satisfactions are of two kinds. One is private; and is called a reparation: the other public; and is called canonical; because prescribed by the ancient canons of the Church. Satisfaction of the latter kind is very often demanded by civil and ecclesiastical courts; for the reformation of offenders and the removal of scandals. In treating of the satisfaction made to God; we speak strictly concerning the λυτρον; the price of redemption; by which Christ; as our surety; atoned for our transgressions. This is by Romanists in part ascribed to certain meritorious; expiatory works; by which they pretend to atone for their own sins and for those of others. It is of the atonement for sin and satisfaction to justice; which Christ made; that we are to treat in this chapter. The point in controversy is not whether the satisfaction of Christ bars all human satisfactions; public and canonical; or private; which are imposed upon offenders for their correction; and to remove scandals from the Church. We admit that these were; with propriety; often demanded under the Old Testament dispensation; and may yet be laudably exacted. But we inquire; whether; besides the satisfaction made by Christ; other satisfactions for sin are to be made to God; and should be imposed upon the saints? Here we and our opponents are at issue. They affirm that such additional satisfactions are to be made by the saints themselves: while we maintain that they are not only useless; but contrary to the Scriptures.

The infliction of chastisements on the people of God when they go astray – chastisements which are of a medicinal or corrective character; such as are inflicted upon children in their father’s house – forms no part of this controversy.

We cheerfully admit that God; for valuable purposes; exercises his people with such wholesome discipline. But does the atonement of Christ exclude penal expiatory sufferings on the part of the saints: sufferings designed; not as proofs of their piety; or to heal their backslidings; but as a satisfaction to avenging justice: not inflicted by God as a father and through parental love; but decreed by God as a judge: sufferings which the law denounces against the wicked? Our adversaries affirm that the atonement does not exclude such sufferings. We maintain that it does. The Church of Rome teaches; that though the satisfaction of Christ is of infinite value; yet that it is not so full and ample; but that various atonements are to be made by believers in their own persons. These; they say; are necessary; if not on account of their guilt and liability to eternal punishment; which they admit are taken away by Christ; yet to save them from temporal punishment. Hear what they say: “If any one shall affirm that; on account of the merits of Christ; there is no necessity that we should make any satisfaction to God; through temporal punishments inflicted by Christ and patiently borne by us; or through punishments enjoined by the priest; not voluntarily undertaken – such as penances; prayers; fastings; alms; and other pious exercises – and shall further say that the new life only is the best penitence; let that man be accursed.” (Council of Trent; section 4; cap. 8; canon 13)

The Remonstrants – a name given to Arminians; on account of the remonstrance which they presented to the Synod of Dort against the act by which their tenets were condemned – endeavor not a little to destroy the perfection of the atonement. Though they have not yet been so bold as; with the disciples of Socinus; to reject the atonement entirely; yet they make every effort in their power to diminish its efficacy and fullness. They maintain that the satisfaction of Christ was accepted by God; not on account of its own dignity; but merely through grace: that it was not a real; but a nominal satisfaction. The substance of the doctrine which they teach on this head is; that God forbore to punish after the death of Christ; not because satisfaction had been truly rendered to his justice; but because he was graciously pleased to admit the satisfaction; notwithstanding its imperfection; as altogether sufficient.

The doctrine for which we contend is; that Christ hath so perfectly satisfied divine justice for all our sins; by one offering of himself: and not only for our guilt; but also for both temporal and eternal punishment; that henceforth there are no more propitiatory offerings to be made for sin: and that though; for the promotion of their penitence and sanctification; God often chastises his people; yet no satisfaction is to be made by them either in this or a future state of existence.

Such is the perfection of the atonement; that it corresponds to the justice of God revealed in the Word; to the demands of the law; and to the miseries and necessities of those for whom it was made. Had it been in its own nature deficient; and derived its sufficiency only from God’s acceptance of it through mere grace; then the victims under the law might have possessed equal efficacy in making atonement for sin; contrary to Hebrews 10:4. Its perfection is derived from its own intrinsic fullness of merit. It is perfect:

(1.) In respect to parts: because it satisfied all the demands which the law makes upon us; both in relation to the obedience of life and the suffering of death. By enduring the punishments due to us; it has freed us from death and condemnation. And by its meritorious efficacy; it has reconciled God the Father to us and has acquired for us a title to eternal life.

(2.) It is perfect in degree: for Christ has not only done and suffered all that which the law claims of us; but all this in a full and perfect degree: so that nothing more; in this respect; can possibly be desired. The perfection in degree is derived from the infinite dignity of the person who suffered and the severity of the punishment exacted.

(3.) Hence follows the perfection in its effects. In respect of God; it has effected an entire reconciliation with him; (Romans 5:10: 2 Corinthians 5:18); in relation to sin; it has wrought full expiation and pardon; (Ephesians 1:7: Hebrews 1:3: 9:26): and in relation to believers; its effects are perfection in holiness and complete redemption; both as to deliverance from death; and as to a title to life and its possession; (Hebrews 9:12: 10:14).

We now offer the proofs which establish this view of the atonement.

I. The dignity of Christ’s person; which is not only of immaculate purity; but also truly divine: a person in which all fullness dwells; (Colossians 1:19). In Christ’s person there is a fullness of divinity; a fullness of office; a fullness of merit and graces. Who; then; can doubt but that the satisfaction which he has made is one of infinite value and efficacy; and therefore of such fullness and all-sufficiency; that nothing can be added to it? For though Christ’s human nature; which was the instrument in the obedience and sufferings; was finite; yet this does not lessen the value of the satisfaction; because it derives its perfection from the divine person of Christ; to which all his actions must be attributed: as he is the person who obeyed and suffered.

II. Our view is also established by the Oneness of Christ’s Offering. Why does the Apostle Paul assert that Christ has once offered himself for us; (Hebrews 7:9–10); and that by one offering of himself he hath forever perfected them that are sanctified? Why does he always set before us the obedience of Christ alone as the ground of our justification; unless this obedience is full and complete? As a repetition of the same offering argues its imperfection; so; on the other hand; an offering’s having been but once made; necessarily imports its plenitude and the full accomplishment of its object.

III. The Perfection of the Atonement is confirmed by the Approbation of God as Judge. If God declares that he is perfectly satisfied; let no one dare to say that the satisfaction is imperfect. The question is; whether the Supreme Judge; who demands the satisfaction; approves of and receives it as altogether sufficient. That the atonement has been approved and accepted by God; is established; not only by the appointment of Christ to the mediatorial office; of whom the Father often declares that he is his beloved Son; in whom he is well pleased: but especially by his resurrection from the dead; which is irresistible evidence both of his divinity and of the perfection of the atonement; (Romans 1:4). Unless Christ had satisfied to the uttermost; can we believe that God the judge; whose inexorable justice demands full payment; would have freed him; and have exalted him to that supreme glory; which was the reward of his sufferings? – (Philippians 2:9). Would the creditor free the surety from prison before he had paid the full debt? Could Christ; when he had undertaken to pay to divine justice the debts which man owed; be set free; until he had to the full redeemed the debt? Seeing; then; that Christ has gloriously arisen; being raised by the power of the Father; there is no room left for doubt respecting the perfection of the satisfaction; the full payment of the price of redemption: of the full discharge of which; the Father has given us such indubitable testimony.

IV. The effects which are produced by the atonement prove its entire sufficiency. Why are our reconciliation with God and the appeasing of his wrath: the expiation and pardon of sin; and this not partial; but full and complete: and our redemption and glorification; all attributed to the death and obedience of Christ; (Colossians 1:20: 2 Corinthians 5:21: 1 John 1:7: Romans 3:24: 5:10: Hebrews 1:3: 9:14: 10:14); unless his atonement was full and complete? A perfect effect requires a perfect cause to produce it.

The doctrine thus established overthrows at once the Romanist dogmas of the sacrifice of the Mass; of human merits in this life and of Purgatorial expiations hereafter. For if these are allowed; it follows either that Christ’s satisfaction is inadequate; or else that God unjustly exacts a double satisfaction for the same sins.

In vain do our opponents contend; “that by pleading for satisfactions to be made by the saints; they do not derogate from the infinity of Christ; nor from his satisfaction: since they make all their virtue and efficacy to depend upon the atonement of Christ; who not only has satisfied for us; but also gives us the power to satisfy for ourselves: and since they do not esteem our good works as atonements to be associated with that of Christ; and as of the same exalted nature; but inferior and subordinate.” They assume what they ought to prove. We do not grant that Christ gives us any power to atone for ourselves. Such a supposition receives no countenance from Scripture; and is contrary to the very nature of an atonement. It is one thing to make satisfaction; another to give the power to make satisfaction. They are indeed utterly inconsistent with each other. If Christ has made a complete satisfaction; why is any other demanded? Where the primary cause is solitary; no co-operative or subordinate causes are admissible. So far is this doctrine of our opponents from advancing the glory of Christ; that it in reality; by resorting to other grounds of salvation than those afforded by him; offers an indignity to him and his atonement. What he; as our Redeemer; has engaged to accomplish; they pretend to effect; at least in part; by other agents. And though in the application of this redemption; men are bound to contribute by their efforts as fellow-workers with God; yet they are unable to co-operate with him in its acquisition.

Equally futile is their reasoning; when they resort to the “distinction between sin and punishment; contending that though Christ has satisfied for our sin; he has not fully satisfied for our punishment: or if for eternal punishment; at least not for temporal; which must be suffered by the saints themselves; either in the present or a future state.” Because the remission of sin on account of the satisfaction made by Christ is perfectly complete: “there is no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus:” and in consequence of his atonement; their justification is perfect; and in due time they shall obtain full glorification; (Romans 8:9). Besides; the distinction thus made between sin and its punishment is absurd; for there is a necessary connection between sin and suffering. Sin is the cause and suffering the effect: take away the cause; and the effect is necessarily destroyed. Remission of sin is nothing but a deliverance from all punishment; which cannot be justly inflicted where there is no transgression. Would it be just to demand the payment of a debt which is already either paid or remitted?

They also assert; “that Christ; in a limited sense; makes satisfaction for temporal punishment; in and by us.”

1. This assertion is rash; having no countenance from Scripture.

2. It is dangerous; associating men with Christ in making satisfaction; and thus taking a part of the work of redemption out of his hands: for redemption and satisfaction are words of similar import; there being no other way to redeem; but by rendering satisfaction.

3. It is false and contrary to Scripture; which asserts; that Christ by himself hath satisfied once for sin; and that there is no further satisfaction to be made by others.

The view which we have given of the perfection of the atonement prostrates the Arminian doctrine of nominal atonement.

When a full payment is made; there is no room for the exercise of grace in accepting what was no more than nominal. In making payments grace is not considered; nor merely the dignity of him who pays; but also the value of the thing given; or its equality to the debt. This is confirmed from Romans 8:3; where Christ is said to have been sent; that all righteousness might be fulfilled. Christ fulfilled all righteousness; or satisfied all the demands of the law; by doing what we ourselves were not able to do; on account of the weakness of the law. Now if; by the satisfaction of Christ; the demands of the law are fulfilled in us; this satisfaction must equal the claims of the law. Farther; an imperfect atonement graciously accepted; we cannot admit; for Christ took upon himself; (Isaiah 53:6–8); all the punishment which was due to us; even that which was the most grievous; the curse of the law itself; (Galatians 3:13). Finally; if God might have accepted of any imperfect satisfaction; it was unnecessary that Christ should stand as our surety; and be exposed to extreme tortures and a most painful death: for satisfaction could have been received from any other man.

We shall now proceed to remove objections. An objection is drawn from those expressions of Scripture; where the apostles are said to suffer for the Church. But it is one thing to suffer for the Church; in order to purchase her by paying a price of redemption; and another to suffer persecution and death for the purpose of consoling and confirming the people of God; by placing before them an example of patience and obedience. When Paul says that he suffers for the Church or for the body of Christ; (Colossians 1:24); it is not in the former sense; for he elsewhere denies that anyone except Christ alone is crucified for us; (1 Corinthians 1:13): but in the latter; as he himself teaches us; 2 Corinthians 5:6; “for your consolation.” In 2 Timothy 2:10; he says that he endures all things for the elect’s sake; not to redeem them from temporal punishment; but that; confirmed and animated by his example; they may obtain salvation by Christ. The remark made by Thomas; (3 Quest. 48; Art. 3); on this subject is a correct one. “The sufferings of the saints are profitable to the Church; not as a price of redemption; but as affording it example and exhortation not to depart from the truth.”

When Paul says; (Colossians 1:24); “that he fills up that which is behind of the sufferings of Christ;” he means not the sufferings endured by Christ in his own person: but the sufferings of Christ mystical; i.e.; of his body; the Church: sufferings which are to be endured by every Christian; after the manner of Christ; whose members they are. Paul; as well as all other saints; had to take up his cross and follow Christ; and endure that share of tribulation which God allotted him; while on the way to the kingdom of heaven. In filling up this measure of tribulation; the apostle bears his cross with alacrity. Christ is often thus; by a figure; put for his body; the Church: “Saul; Saul; why persecutest thou me?” (Acts 9:4: 1 Corinthians 12:12). The sufferings of the saints are often called the sufferings of Christ: “For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us;” (2 Corinthians 1:5). They are called so in relation to their origin; because Christ; as supreme director of the theatre of life; appoints them to us; and calls upon us to suffer them; (Acts 9:16: 1 Peter 2:21: Philippians 1:29): in relation to their object; for they are laid upon us on account of Christ and his Gospel: and also in relation to our union and communion with Christ; for we are one with him: so that blessings and sufferings are in some sense common to us and Christ: “In all their afflictions he was afflicted.” We are called to participate in his sufferings; that we may be conformed to him in his cross; before we are conformed to him in his glory (Romans 8:18).

It is one thing for a person to atone for his sins by a real satisfaction; another to break them off by works of repentance and charity. It is in the latter sense that Daniel; (Daniel 4:27); advises Nebuchadnezzar to break off his sins. The Hebrew word peraq (H6562); used by the prophet here; does not primarily signify to redeem; nor even to deliver: its primary sense is to tear away; or break off: and hence; as a collateral signification; to deliver. The prophet exhorts the king to repentance and a change of life; in order to make reparation to men; and not to God; for the injuries and oppressions which he had practised: and that thus; by breaking off his course of sinning; he might be more prosperous; escape from the ruin which was hanging over him; and obtain a longer continuance of peace in his empire. To the same purpose are all those places of Scripture in which pardon of sin is promised to repentance. The repentance is not a meritorious cause; but a condition annexed; the medium through which pardon is obtained.

Sufferings are of two kinds. In the one; they are exacted by a judge to make satisfaction to justice: in the other; they are inflicted for the correction of the offender. We admit that the latter species of offering is often appointed to believers; not for vengeance; but for healing: not for destruction; but for correction. God lays it upon them; not as a judge; but as a father: not out of hatred; but out of love. Cyprian says; “The Lord chastises the saints that he may advance their holiness; and he advances their holiness that he may save them.” To the same purpose Thomas speaks: (III. Q. 96); “Before pardon; the sufferings of the elect are punishments for sin: after pardon; they are exercises.” Augustine happily explains the difference between the punishments of the wicked and the chastisements of the saints: “All; both good and evil; suffer the same afflictions: nor by their afflictions can we distinguish between the righteous and the wicked: for all things happen alike to all: there is one lot to the righteous and to the wicked. There is; however; a distinction between the persons who suffer. All who are subjected to the same pains are not alike vicious or virtuous. In the same fire gold shines and stubble smokes: by the same fan the chaff is blown away and the wheat purged. Dregs must not be confounded with oil; because both are pressed in the same press. The very same afflictions which prove; purify; and refine the righteous; are a curse and destruction to the wicked. Hence; under the pressure of the same calamities; the wicked detest and blaspheme God; while the righteous pray to him and praise him. Thus the difference is not in the nature of the punishments; but in the character of those who suffer them;” (De Civ. Dei.; lib. i. cap.8).

The chastisements which the saints experience sometimes; indeed; retain the name punishments; but not in a strict sense.

1. Because punishments; in a strict sense; are inflicted by the Supreme Judge upon transgressors; on account of their violation of his law. Hence; even after the state of a man is changed and he becomes a saint; the pains and griefs which he suffers are called by the same name; because; though not formally; they are materially the same.

2. Because there are many points of resemblance between them and punishments properly so called: like them; they are not joyous; but grievous to the flesh; which they are designed to subdue: they are dispensed to the saints; by the will of a gracious God; with as much care and attention as he; in the character of an avenging judge; dispenses punishments: sin gives occasion to both: both produce in the mind the same apprehension that God is an angry judge: and both serve as an example salutary to other offenders. But this grand difference still remains – that; in the punishments of the wicked; God; as a judge; has in view satisfaction to his justice: while in the chastisements of his people; he; as a father; designs the correction and amendment of his disobedient children.

The death of David’s child; which affliction happened to him after the pardon of his sin; (2 Samuel 12:14); was not a judicial punishment; but a fatherly chastisement: for his sin having been once pardoned; no punishment could remain to be borne. The reason which God assigns for thus afflicting the King of Israel gives no countenance to the idea that the affliction was judicial and expiatory. By his sin; he had given occasion to the enemy to blaspheme the name of God; and thus the discipline of the house of God had been most basely violated. This breach of discipline must be healed by a salutary example. Nor can we infer that it was judicial; from David’s deprecating it. It is the part of human nature to endeavor to escape whatever is painful; just as a sick man deprecates the caustic powders; the pain of the amputating knife; and the bitterness of medicine: though nothing can be further from the nature of punishment than these.

Though death cannot be inflicted upon us to guard us against future transgression; nor for our amendment; yet it by no means follows that it is designed as an atonement for sin.

There are many other weighty reasons; rendering it necessary that all should die: such as; that the remains of sin may be destroyed: that we may pass from a natural and terrestrial state to one spiritual and heavenly: that piety may be exercised: that Christian virtues may be displayed in the most brilliant manner: and finally; that we may have a most powerful excitement to amend our life; and prepare for entering upon a better inheritance.

The judgement; which; the Apostle Peter tells us; must begin at the house of God; (1 Peter 4:17); is not the legal judgement of avenging justice; which proceeds from God as a wrathful judge; but a fatherly and evangelical chastisement: not to punish and destroy; but to hold out a useful example; and to correct us; that thus we may not be condemned with the world; as Paul says; (1 Corinthians 11:32). The revenge mentioned in 2 Corinthians 7:11; is not properly a punishment inflicted by God in the character of judge: but either an ecclesiastical censure; such as excommunication; which is adjudged by the Church for the removal of scandal: or it rather denotes the repentance and contrition in which a sinner is offended with himself; and; as it were; takes vengeance on himself for his offences.

Though those under the Old Testament dispensation; whose sins were pardoned; had still to offer sacrifices for sin; yet a warrant for attempting to make human atonements is not thence to be inferred. The sacrifices then offered were not; properly speaking; a satisfaction for sin: they were types of a future atonement to be made by Christ; through the efficacy of which they procured pardon.

When Solomon says; (Proverbs 16:6); that “by mercy and truth iniquity is purged;” no countenance is given to the human satisfaction for which the Church of Rome contends. There are two opinions maintained respecting this passage. One is; that by “mercy and truth” are meant; the mercy and truth of God: then the wise man would directly allude to and assert the atonement of Christ. The other opinion is; that the mercy and truth of man are intended: then the doctrine which the text teaches would be; that mercy and truth are a condition always required when sin is pardoned; (but not the cause for which the sentence of pardon is pronounced): because; against the unmerciful; judgement without mercy will be exercised: while on the other hand; “the merciful shall obtain mercy;” (Matthew 5:6).

The Hebrew word kphar (H3722); which is here translated “purged;” does not properly signify expiatory purging; but either covering and remission only; which God bestows on the believing and merciful: or else the removal of the power of sin; in which sense it is used by the Prophet Isaiah; (Isaiah 28:18). Then the passage would intimate that the exercise of mercy and sincere piety removes the contrary vices. The following clause of the verse confirms this interpretation of the word: “By the fear of the Lord men depart from evil.”

Though nothing defiled can enter into the New Jerusalem; yet there is no need of any satisfaction in this life; besides that of Christ; nor of a purgatory in another; to purge away the pollutions of sin: for in the moment of death; when the soul is separated from the body; all the remains of sin are entirely removed by the Spirit of Christ.

How Many Natures are Needed to Make One Atonement?

Taken and adapted from, The Atonement   
Written by Francis Turretin, 


For our purposes, the person who makes the atonement is here to be considered…

As sin is to be viewed in the threefold light of;

1. debt,
2. enmity,
3. crime;

Therefore God must be seen in the threefold light of;

1. creditor,
2. party offended,
3. judge;

Also Christ must put on a threefold relation corresponding to all these.

1. He must sustain the character of a Surety, for the payment of the debt.
2. He must be a Mediator, a peace-maker, to take away the enmity of the parties and reconcile us to God.
3. He must be a Priest and victim, to substitute himself in our room, and make atonement, by enduring the penal sanction of the law.

Again: that such an atonement may be made, two things are requisite: 

1. That the same nature which sins shall make restitution.
2. That the consideration given must possess infinite value, in order to the removal of the infinite demerit of sin.

In Christ, two natures were necessary for the making of an atonement:

1. a human nature, to suffer,
2. a divine nature, to give the requisite value to his sufferings.

Moreover, we must demonstrate how it is possible, in consistency with justice, to substitute an innocent person, as Christ was. in our room; because such a substitution, at first view, appears to be not only unusual, but also unjust. Though a substitution, which is common in a pecuniary debt, rarely occurs in penal transactions — nay, is sometimes prohibited, as was the case among the Romans, because no one is master of his own life, and because the commonwealth would suffer loss in such cases — yet it was not ‘unknown among the heathen. We have an example of it in Damon and Pythias; two intimate friends, one of whom voluntarily entered himself bail for the other to Dionysius in a capital cause. Curtius, Codrus, and Brutus devoted themselves for their country. The right of punishing hostages, when princes fail in their promises, has been recognized by all nations. Hence hostages are called anti-psukoi substitutes. To this Paul alludes, when he says, (Rom. 5:7) “For a good man some would even dare to die.” The Holy Scriptures often give it support, not only from the imputation of sin, by which one bears the punishment due to another, but from the public use of sacrifices, in which the victim was substituted in the place of the sinner and suffered death in his stead. Hence the imposition of hands, and the confession of sins over the head of the victims.

But, that such a substitution may be made without the slightest appearance of injustice, various conditions are requisite in the substitute or surety, all which are found in Christ.

1. A common nature, that sin may be punished in the same nature which is guilty, (Heb. 2:14).
2. The consent of the will, that he should voluntarily take the burden upon himself, (Heb. 10:9) — “Lo, I come to do thy will.”
3. Power over his own life, so that he may rightfully determine respecting it, (John, 10:18) — “No one taketh away my life, but I lay it down of myself, for I have power to lay it down, and take it up again.”
4. The power of bearing the punishment due to us, and of freeing both himself and us from the power of death; because, if he himself could be holden of death, he could free no one from its dominion. That Christ possesses this power, no one doubts.
5. Holiness and immaculate purity, that, being polluted by no sin, he might not have to offer sacrifice for himself, but for us only, (Heb. 7:26-27.)

Under these conditions, it was not unjust for Christ to substitute himself in our room, while lie is righteous and we unrighteous. By this act no injury is done to any one. Not to Christ, for he voluntarily took the punishment upon himself, and had the right to decide concerning his own life and death, and also power to raise himself from the dead. Not to God the judge, for he willed and commanded it; nor to his natural justice, for the Surety satisfied this by suffering the punishment which demanded it. Not to the empire of the universe, by depriving an innocent person of life, for Christ, freed from death, lives for evermore; or by the life of the surviving sinner injuring the kingdom of God, for he is converted and made holy by Christ. Not to the divine law, for its honour has been maintained by the perfect fulfillment of all its demands, through the righteousness of the Mediator; and, by our legal and mystical union, he becomes one with us, and we one with him. Hence he may justly take upon him our sin and sorrows, and impart to us his righteousness and blessings. So there is no abrogation of the law, no derogation from its claims; as what we owed is transferred to the account of Christ, to be paid by him.

These preliminary remarks we have thought necessary, in order to the lucid discussion of the question concerning the necessity of the atonement. We now proceed to inquire whether it was necessary that Christ should satisfy for us, as well absolutely, in relation to the divine justice, as hypothetically, on the ground of a divine decree: whether it was absolutely necessary, in order to our salvation, that an atonement should be made, God not having the power to pardon our sins without a satisfaction, or whether it was rendered necessary only by the divine decree? The Socinians, indeed, admit no kind of necessity. Some of the old divines, and some members of the Reformed Church, contend for a hypothetical necessity only. They think it sufficient for the refutation of the heretic.

But we, with the great body of the orthodox, contend for both. We do not urge a necessity simply natural, such as that of fire to burn, which is in-voluntary, and admits of no modification in its exercise. It is a moral and rational necessity for which we plead; one which, as it flows from the holiness and justice of God, and cannot be exercised any other way than freely and voluntarily, admits of various modifications, provided there is no infringement of the natural rights of Deity. That there is such a necessity, is evinced by many arguments.

Concerning the Penal Substitution of Christ, and the Historic Church’s Solemn and United Witness

Taken from, “Christ our Penal Substitute”
Written by Robert L. Dabney
Published Posthumously, 1898. 


The consensus of the Christian churches in their doctrinal standards does not amount to true inspiration…

…and we hold no rule of faith to be infallible and of divine authority except God’s own word. But this general concert of beliefs among the various denominations of God’s children carries great probable weight for those points of doctrine whereon the agreement exists: “In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established.” The standards of a church are usually the mental work of its most learned and revered members, who have made most careful study of the Scriptures. Where so many good and competent men concur, notwithstanding the different points of view from which, and habits of thought with which, they inspect and construe God’s word, there is the highest probability that their harmonious construction is the correct one. Our assailants should remember that when they talk of their “advanced thought,” their “intellectual progress,” their “sloughing off of the old dogma,” as superstitious and antiquated rubbish, they are disdaining the combined scholarship of the greatest and best men and of the most profound learning of all the centuries since Athanasius, and of all the nations and churches of Christendom. Such arrogance is the surest sign of heedlessness and superficiality.

The two ancient communions of the “Roman Catholics” and “Orthodox Greek” Christians are great and imposing for their antiquity, their learning, and their numbers. We believe that their creeds involve numerous great and fatal errors, chiefly the accretions of human traditions and priestcraft before and during the Dark Ages; but the Articles in which they still declare Christ’s vicarious substitution for human guilt are the most respectable and least corrupted parts of their Confessions of Faith which come down to them from the creeds of earlier and purer ages. The force of their testimony is in this: that even these corrupt churches agree exactly with all the Protestant creeds concerning this ancient and vital doctrine. Hear, then, the Roman Church, in the “Dogmatic Degrees of the Council of Trent,” Session sixth, Degree of Justification, Chapter II.: “Him God proposed as a propitiation through faith in his blood for our sins,” etc. And Chapter VII.: “Our Lord Jesus Christ…. merited justification for us by his most holy passion on the wood of the cross, and made satisfaction for us unto God the Father.”
Hear also the witness of the Russo-Greek church, which now contains the vast majority of the so-called “Orthodox Greek Christians.” The Larger Catechism of the Oriental Grecian and Russian Church, Article IV., Question 208; “His voluntary suffering and death on the cross for us, being of infinite value and merit, as the death of one sinless, God and man in one person, is both a perfect satisfaction to the justice of God, which had condemned us for sin to death, and a fund of infinite merit, which has obtained him the right, without prejudice to justice, to give us sinners pardon of our sins, and grace to have victory over sin and death.”

We now pass to the great Protestant confessions, citing, first, the Lutheran Augsburg Confession, Article III.: Christ “truly suffered, was crucified, dead and buried, that he might reconcile the Father unto us, and might be a sacrifice, not only for original guilt, but also for all actual sins of men.” Again, Article IV.: “Their sins forgiven for Christ’s sake, who by his death hath satisfied for our sins.”

The Formula Concordia, the latest and most conclusive confession of the Lutheran body, speaks thus, Article III., Section 1: Christ, “in his sole merit, most absolute obedience which he rendered unto the Father even unto death, as God and man, merited for us the remission of all our sins and eternal life.”

The same is the witness of the great group of the Reformed Protestant churches. The Heidelburg Catechism, Second Part, Question 12, Answer: “God wills that his justice be satisfied; therefore must we make full satisfaction to the same, either by ourselves or by another.” And Question 16: “Why must ‘Christ’ be a true and sinless man?” Answer: “Because the justice of God requires that the same human nature which has sinned should make satisfaction for sin; but no man, being himself a sinner, could satisfy for others.” The Confession of the French Reformed Church, Article XVIII.: “We, therefore, reject all other means of justification before God, and without claiming any virtue or merit, we rest simply on the obedience of Jesus Christ, which is imputed to us as much to bear all our sins as to make us find grace and favor in the sight of God.”

The Belgic Confession (Dort, 1561), Article XX.: “We believe that God, who is perfectly merciful and also perfectly just, sent his Son to assume that nature in which the disobedience was committed, to make satisfaction in the same, and to bear the punishment of sin by his most bitter passion and death.”
First Scotch Presbyterian Confession (1566), Article IX.: Christ “offered himself a voluntary sacrifice unto his Father for us;… he being the innocent Lamb of God was damned in the presence of an earthly judge, that we should be absolved before the tribunal seat of our God.”

The Thirty-nine Articles, the doctrinal confession of all Episcopalians throughout the world in the empires of Britain and the United States. Article II.: Christ “truly suffered, was crucified, dead and buried, to reconcile his Father to us, and to be a sacrifice, not only for original guilt, but also for actual sins of men.”

The Confessions of the Waldenses, A. D. 1655, Section XIV.: God “gave his own Son to save us by his most perfect obedience (especially that obedience which he manifested in suffering the cursed death of the cross), and also by his victory over the devil, sin, and death.” Section XV.:… Christ “made a full expiation for our sins by his most perfect sacrifice.”

The Westminster Confession (1647) gives us the present creed of all the Presbyterian churches in the English speaking world, Scotch and Scotch-Irish, colonial, Canadian, and American. It is also the doctrinal creed of these great bodies, the Evangelical Baptist, and orthodox Congregationalists in Britain and America, being expressly adopted by some of them and closely copied by others, as the “Saybrook Platform” of New England. In this great creed, Chapter VIII., Section V., is this witness: “The Lord Jesus, by his perfect obedience and sacrifice of himself, which he through the eternal Spirit once offered up unto God, hath fully satisfied the justice of his Father, and purchased not only reconciliation, but an everlasting inheritance in the kingdom of heaven, for all those whom the Father hath given unto him.”

“Methodist Articles of Religion” (1784) are the responsible creed of the vast Wesleyan bodies of Britain and America. Many of these propositions are adopted verbatim from the “Thirty-nine Articles.” This is true of Article II. which contains an identical assertion, in the same words, of the doctrine of Christ’s penal substitution.

The Catechism of the “Evangelical Union” teaches these doctrinal views, in which all the churches concur which are represented in the “Evangelical Alliance.” This document omits the peculiar, distinctive doctrines in which these churches differ from each other. It was the work of Dr. Philip Schaff, D.D., LL. D., 1862, Lesson XXVIII., Question 4: “What did he (Christ) suffer there? ” “He suffered unutterable pains in body and soul, and bore the guilt of the whole world.”

Such is the tremendous array of the most responsible and deliberate testimonies of all the churches of Christendom, save one little exception, the Socinian, in support of our doctrine concerning the penal substitution of Christ. This testimony was not formulated in the gloom of the ninth or tenth century: but between the sixteenth and nineteenth, after the great renaissance, after the splendid tide of Greek and Hebrew scholarship had reached its flood in large part, after the full development of the scholastic and modern philosophies, synchronously with or after the Augustan age of theological science and exegetical learning, just during the epoch of the grandest and most beneficial development of human culture which the world has hitherto witnessed, concurrently with the splendid birth and growth of those physical sciences which have created anew our civilization. In this our boast we have not claimed the guidance of that Holy Spirit which Christ promised to bestow continuously upon his visible church, and which its pastors sought in prayer and supposed they were enjoying in these their most solemn witnessings for their Master.

As our opponents usually repudiate this spiritual guidance for themselves, and prefer that of human philosophy, they will, of course, pay no respect to this higher claim. We only ask our readers to judge betwixt us, what is the modesty of that pretension which affects to thrust aside all these conclusions of the best ages as silly, antiquated, and self-evident rubbish. Is the irony of Job too caustic for this case? “Surely ye are the people, and wisdom will die with you.”

Important Thoughts on the Atonement, and the Love from Whence it Springs

Excerpts taken and adapted from, “The Atonement”
Written by, John Murray, 1898-1975


The Necessity of the Atonement

The love of God is the cause of the atonement. But why did the love of God take this way of realizing its end? This is the question of the reason as distinguished from the cause. Notable theologians in the history of the church have taken the position that there was no absolute reason, that God could have saved men by other means than by the blood-shedding of His own Son, that, since God is omnipotent and sovereign, other ways of forgiving sin were available to Him. But God was pleased to adopt this method because the greatest number of advantages and blessings accrued from it. God could have redeemed men without the shedding of blood, but He freely chose not to and thereby He magnifies the glory of His grace and enhances the precise character of the salvation bestowed (e.g., Augustine, Aquinas, Thomas Goodwin, John Ball, Thomas Blake).

It might appear that this view does honor to the omnipotence, sovereignty, and grace of God and, also, that to posit more would be presumptuous on our part and beyond the warrant of Scripture. Is it not the limit of our thought to say that “without the shedding of blood” (Hebrews 9:22) there is actually no remission and be satisfied with that datum? There are, however, certain things God cannot do. “He cannot deny himself” (2 Timothy 2:13) and it is “impossible for God to lie” (Hebrews 6:18). The only question is: are there exigencies arising from the character and perfections of God which make it intrinsically necessary that redemption should be accomplished by the sacrifice of the Son of God? It should be understood that it was not necessary for God to redeem men. The purpose to redeem is of the free and sovereign exercise of His love. But having purposed to redeem, was the only alternative the blood-shedding of His own Son as the way of securing that redemption? There appear to be good reasons for an affirmative answer.

Salvation requires not only the forgiveness of sin but also justification.


And justification, adequate to the situation in which lost mankind is, demands a righteousness such as belongs to no other than the incarnate Son of God, a righteousness undefiled and undefilable, a righteousness with divine property and quality (cf. Romans 1:17; 3:21-22; 10:3; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Phi 3:9). It is the righteousness of the obedience of Christ (Romans 5:19). But only the Son of God incarnate, fulfilling to the full extent the commitments of the Father’s will, could have provided such a righteousness. A concept of salvation bereft of the justification which this righteousness imparts is an abstraction of which Scripture knows nothing.

Sin is the contradiction of God and He must react against it with holy wrath.


Wherever sin is, the wrath of God rests upon it (cf. Romans 1:18). Otherwise God would be denying Himself, particularly His holiness, justice, and truth. But wrath must be removed if we are to enjoy the favor of God which salvation implies. And the only provision for the removal of wrath is propitiation. This is surely the import of Romans 3:25-26, that God set forth Christ a propitiation to declare His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the ungodly.

The Cross of Christ is the supreme demonstration of the love of God (cf. Romans 5:8; 1 John 4:9-10). But would it be a supreme demonstration of love if the end secured by it could have been achieved without it? Would it be love to secure the end by such expenditure as the agony of Gethsemane and the abandonment of Calvary for God’s own well-beloved and only-begotten Son if the result could have been attained by less costly means? In that event would it not have been love without wisdom? In this we cannot suppress the significance of our Lord ’s Prayer in Gethsemane (Mathew 26:39). If it had been possible for the cup to pass from him, his prayer would surely have been answered. It is when the indispensable exigencies fulfilled by Jesus’ suffering unto death are properly assessed that we can see the marvel of God’s love in the ordeal of Calvary. So great was the Father’s love to lost men that He decreed their redemption even though the cost was naught less than the accursed tree. When Calvary is viewed in this light, then the love manifested not only takes on meaning but fills us with adoring amazement. Truly this is love.

Those who think that in pursuance of God’s saving purpose the Cross was not intrinsically necessary are, in reality, not dealing with the hypothetical necessity of the atonement but with a hypothetical salvation. For, on their own admission, they are not saying that the actual salvation designed and bestowed could have been enjoyed without Christ but only salvation of lesser character and glory. But of such salvation the Scripture knows nothing, and no good purpose can be served by an imaginary hypothesis.

Obedience: The capacity in which Christ discharges all phases of his atoning work.


Obedience does not define for us the specific character of the other categories but it does point us to the capacity in which Christ discharges all phases of his atoning work. No passage in Scripture provides more instruction on our topic than Isaiah 52:13-53:12. It is in the capacity of a Servant that the person in view is introduced and it is in the same capacity He executes His expiatory function (Isaiah 52:13, 15; 53:11). The title “Servant” derives its meaning from the fact that He is the Lord’s Servant, not the Servant of men (cf. Isaiah 42:1, 19; 52:13). He is the Father’s Servant and this implies subjection to and fulfillment of the Father’s will. Servant defines His commitment, and obedience to the execution. Psalm 40:7-8 points in the same direction. Our Lord Himself confirms what the Old Testament foretold. “I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me” (John 6:38; cf. 4:34; 10:17-18). The pivotal events of redemptive accomplishment He performed in pursuance of the Father’s commandment and in the exercise of messianic authority. Paul’s witness is to the same effect as that of the Old Testament and of Jesus Himself. Most important is Philippians 2:7-8. For this text in respect of the capacity in which Jesus acted attaches itself to Isaiah 52:13-53:12 and represents the climactic event of Jesus’ commitment, the death of the Cross, as an act of obedience. And Romans 5:19 expresses that it is by the obedience of Christ that many are constituted righteous. This evidence shows that our thought respecting the nature of the atonement is not Biblically conditioned unless it is governed by the concept of the obedience of Christ in His capacity as the Servant fulfilling the Father’s commission.

We must not view this obedience mechanically or quantitatively. It did not consist simply in the sum total of formal acts of obedience. Obedience springs from the dispositional complex of motive, intention, direction, and purpose.

And since our Lord was truly human and fulfilled the Father’s will in human nature, we must appreciate the progression in knowledge, understanding, resolution, and will which was necessary to and came to expression in the discharge of the Father’s will in its increasing demands upon Him until these demands reached their climax in the death upon the Cross. This explains the word in Hebrews 5:8 that he learned “obedience from the things which he suffered.” At no point was He disobedient. But the demands of obedience were so expansive and progressively exacting that He had to learn in the furnace of trial, temptation, and suffering. Since His obedience thus attained to the perfection and completeness required for the discharge of His commitments to the fullest extent of their demands, He was made perfect as the captain of salvation (Hebrews 2:10) and “being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him” (Hebrews 5:9). This is but saying that it was by obedience that he accomplished the salvation of the many sons who are to be brought to glory, and we see how integral to salvation secured is the obedience of Christ.

Sacrifice:  Christ’s giving of Himself


There is abundant evidence in the New Testament to show that Christ’s giving of Himself is to be construed in terms of sacrificial offering (1 Corinthians 5:7; Ephesians 5:2; Hebrews 7:27; 8:3; 9:14, 23, 25, 26, 28; 10:10, 12, 14, 26). And it is not only these express statements which support the thesis but also references which can only be interpreted in terms of the altar of sacrifice (cf., e.g., Hebrews 13:10-13). The notion of sacrifice entertained by these New Testament writers is that derived from the Old Testament, for the allusions to the sacrificial ritual of the Levitical economy make it apparent that the latter provided the type in terms of which the sacrifice of Christ was to be interpreted. The Old Testament sacrifices were expiatory of guilt. This is particularly true of the sin-offerings, and these are specifically in view in some of the New Testament passages (cf. Hebrews 9:6-15, 23-24; 13:10-13). The idea of expiation is the removal of the liability accruing from sin. Sacrifice is the provision whereby this liability is removed—it is the substitutive endurance of penalty and transference of liability from the offerer to the sacrifice.

The Old Testament sacrifices were truly typological of the sacrifice of Christ. Isaiah 53:10 expressly applies to the self-sacrifice of the Servant what was figuratively represented by the trespass-offering, and in New Testament passages, as indicated above, the Levitical offerings provide the analogy after which Christ’s sacrifice is to be understood. But of more significance is the fact that the sacrifice of Christ is the archetype after which they were patterned—they were patterns of the things in the heavens and only figures of the true (Hebrews 9:23-24). Christ’s offering is the heavenly exemplar. This is additional confirmation that what was signified in shadow by the ritual offerings, namely expiation, was transcendently and really true in the sacrifice of Christ. The shadow portrays the outline of the reality. It is, however, this truth, that the sacrifice of Christ is the heavenly reality, that insures the efficacy and finality and perfection of His sacrifice in contrast with the obvious shortcomings of the levitical offerings (cf. Hebrews 9:9-14, 24-28). “By one offering he hath perfected forever them that are sanctified” (Hebrews 10:14).

It is the work of Christ, viewed in terms of sacrifice, which thrusts into the foreground the high priestly office of our Redeemer. It is the prerogative of the priest to offer sacrifice and only in the exercise of His prerogative as the great high priest of our profession did Jesus offer Himself. He was “called of God an high priest after the order of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 5:10). Here the uniqueness of Christ’s sacrifice is further demonstrated. He offered Himself, and the sacrifice He offered was Himself. He acted as both priest and offering (cf. Hebrews 7:27; 8:3; 9:14, 25; 10:5-9) and thus purged our sins. The transcendent perfection, efficacy, and finality of His sacrifice reside in the transcendent character of the offering and the dignity of His priesthood.

Propitiation: Christ’s dealing with God’s wrath


The language of propitiation is clearly applied to the work of Christ in the New Testament (Romans 3:25; Hebrews 2:17; 1 John 2:2; 4:10). Plausible attempts have been made to interpret propitiation in terms of expiation and thus avoid the prima facie import of propitiation. The fallacy of these attempts has been successfully demonstrated by scholarly and painstaking study of the Biblical data (see bibliography). The reason for the attempt to relieve the work of Christ of its strictly propitiatory character is obvious. To propitiate means to pacify, to conciliate, to make propitious. It pre-supposes that the person propitiated is angry and needs to be pacified. If Christ propitiates, it must be God whom he propitiates. And surely, it is alleged, we cannot think of God as needing to be pacified or made propitious by the blood of Christ. If the atonement springs from the love of the Father and is the provision of His love, as has been shown above, is it not contradiction to maintain that He is conciliated by that which is the expression of His love? If invincible love is antecedent, then no place remains for the pacifying of wrath!

There is deplorable confusion in this line of reasoning. To love and to be propitious are not convertible terms. Even in the human sphere the unique object of love may at the same time be the unique object of holy wrath and displeasure. It is the denial of God’s holiness in relation to sin, as the contradiction of what He is and demands, not to recognize that sin must evoke His wrath. And just as sin belongs to persons, so the wrath rests upon the persons who are the agents of sin. Those whom God loved with invincible love were the children of wrath, as Paul expressly says (Ephesians 2:3). It is to this fact that the propitiation made by Christ is directed. Those whom God loved were the children of His wrath. It is this truth that enhances the marvel of His love, and if we deny it or tone it down we have eviscerated the greatness of His love. The doctrine of the propitiation is precisely this that God loved the objects of His wrath so much that He gave His own Son to the end that He by His blood should make provision for the removal of this wrath. It was Christ’s to deal with the wrath so that those loved would no longer be the objects of wrath, and love would achieve its aim of making the children of wrath the children of God’s good pleasure. It is a combined perspective that can dispense with the necessity and glory of propitiation.

The disposition to deny or even underrate the doctrine of propitiation betrays a bias that is prejudicial to the atonement as such. The atonement means that Christ bore our sins and in bearing sin bore its judgment (cf. Isaiah 53:5).

Death itself is the judgment of God upon sin (cf. Romans 5:12; 6:23). And Christ died for no other reason than that death is the wages of sin. But the epitome of the judgment of God upon sin is His wrath. If Jesus in our place met the whole judgment of God upon our sin, He must have endured that which constitutes the essence of this judgment. How superficial is the notion that the vicarious endurance of wrath is incompatible with the immutable love of the Father to Him! Of course, the Father loved the Son with unchangeable and infinite love. And the discharge of the Father’s will in the extremities of Gethsemane’s agony and the abandonment of Calvary elicited the supreme delight of the Father (cf. John 10:17). But love and wrath are not contradictory; love and hatred are. It is only because Jesus was the Son, loved immutably as such and loved increasingly in His messianic capacity as He progressively fulfilled the demands of the Father’s commission, that He could bear the full stroke of judicial wrath. This is inscribed on the most mysterious utterance that ever ascended from earth to heaven, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Psalms 22:1; Mathew 27:46; Mark 15:34). God, in our nature, forsaken of God! Here is the wonder of the Father’s love and of the Son’s love, too. Eternity will not scale its heights or fathom its depths. How pitiable is the shortsightedness that blinds us to its grandeur and that fails to see the necessity and glory of the propitiation. “Herein is love,” John wrote, “not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son…[a] propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10). Christ is truly the propitiation for our sins because He propitiated the wrath which was our damnation. The language of propitiation may not be diluted; it bespeaks the essence of Calvary.

Reconciliation: Our alienation from God removed


Just as sacrifice has in view the exigency created by our guilt and propitiation, the exigency arising from the wrath of God, so reconciliation is concerned with our alienation from God and the need of having that alienation removed. In the Scripture the actual terms used with reference to the reconciliation wrought by Christ are to the effect that we are reconciled to God (Romans 5:10) and that God reconciles us to Himself (2 Corinthians 5:18-19; Ephesians 2:16; Colossians 1:20-22). Never is it expressly stated that God is reconciled to us. It has often been stated, therefore, that the Cross of Christ, insofar as it contemplated reconciliation, did not terminate upon God to the removal of His alienation from us but simply and solely upon us to the removal of our alienation from Him. In other words, it is not that which God has against us that is dealt with in the reconciliation but only our enmity against Him. It is strange that this contention should be so persistent that scholars should be content with what is, to say the least, so superficial an interpretation of the usage of Scripture in reference to the term in question.

It is not to be denied that the reconciliation is concerned with our enmity against God. Reconciliation, like all the other categories deals with sin and the liability proceeding from it. And sin is enmity against God. But, when the teaching of Scripture is properly analyzed, it will be seen that reconciliation involves much more than that which might appear at first sight to be the case.

When in Matthew 5:24 we read, “Be reconciled to thy brother,” we have an example of the use of the word “reconcile” that should caution us against a common inference. In this instance the person bringing his gift to the altar is reminded that his brother has something against him. It is this grievance on the part of the other that is the reason for interrupting his act of worship. It is the grievance and, in that sense, the “against” of the other that the worshipper must take into account, and it is the removal of that grievance, of that alienation, of that against, that the reconciliation which he is required to effect contemplates. He is to do all that is necessary to remove the alienation in the mind and attitude of the other. It is plain, therefore, that the situation requiring reconciliation is the frame of mind or the attitude of the other and what the reconciliation must effect is the change of mind on the part of the other, namely, the person called the brother. Thus we are pointed in a very different direction from that which we might have expected from the mere formula, “be reconciled.” And although it is the “against” of the brother that is in view as requiring a change, the exhortation is in terms of “be reconciled to thy brother” and not at all “Let thy brother be reconciled to thee.” By this analysis it can easily be seen that the formula “reconciled to God” can well mean that what the reconciliation has in view is God’s alienation from us and the removal of that alienation. Matthew 5:23-24 shows how indefensible is an interpretation that rests its case upon what, at best, is mere appearance.

Another example points in the same direction. It is Romans 11:15. “For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead?” The “casting away” is that of Israel and the “reconciling” (reconciliation) is that of the Gentile nations. The “casting away” is contrasted with the “reconciliation” and the meaning of the latter is to be discovered from this contrast. The “casting away” is also contrasted with the “receiving,” that is, the receiving of them back again. The “casting away” can be nothing other than the rejection of them from the divine favor and blessing they once enjoyed and the “receiving” is the restoration of them again to the divine favor and blessing from which for a time they had been excluded. It is apparent that in both words the thought is focused upon the relation of Israel to God’s favor and saving blessing. Reconciliation, being in contrast with casting away, must, therefore, mean the reception of the Gentiles into the favor of God and the blessing of the Gospel; it is the relation to God’s favor that is expressed. Hence it is upon the change in the disposition of God and the change in the resulting relationship of God to the Gentiles that thought is focused in the word “reconciliation.” This demonstrates that the term can be used with reference to a change that takes place in God’s mind and relation with reference to men.

Conclusion The atonement springs from the fountain of the Father’s love…


He commends His own love towards us. We must not think, however, that the action of the Father ended with the appointment and commission of the Son. He was not a mere spectator of Gethsemane and Calvary. The Father laid upon His own Son the iniquities of us all. He spared not His own Son but delivered Him up. He made Him to be sin for us. It was the Father who gave Him the cup of damnation to drink. God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself. Here is love supremely demonstrated.

No stronger expression appears in Scripture than this that God made Christ to be sin for us. We fall far short of a proper assessment of Christ’s humiliation if we fail to appreciate this fact. It was not simply the penalty of sin that Jesus bore. He bore our sins. He was not made sinful, but He was made sin and, therefore, brought into the closest identification with our sins that it was possible for Him to come without thereby becoming Himself sinful. Any exposition of ours can only touch the fringe of this mystery. The liability with which the Lord of glory had to deal was not merely the penalty of sin but sin itself. And sin is the contradiction of God. What Jesus bore was the contradiction of what He was as both God and man. The recoil of Gethsemane (Mathew 26:39) was the inevitable recoil of His holy soul from the abyss of woe which sin-bearing involved. And His “nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt” bespeaks the intensity of His commitment to the extremities of Calvary, the bitter dregs of the cup given Him to drink. Here is love unspeakable; He poured out His soul unto death. Psalms 22 and 69 are the prophetic delineature of His agony, the Gospel story is the inspired record of fulfillment, the apostolic witness the interpretation of its meaning.

We cannot but seek to apprehend more and more of the mystery. The saints will be eternally occupied with it. But eternity will not fathom its depths nor exhaust its praise.


Written by Newman Hall, LL.B.; D.D.
Edited for thought and sense.

Nails by Matt Reier, (c) IRI.
‘Jesus Christ and Him crucified,’ was the theme of the first Missionary of the Gospel to Europe.

The world was in a state of moral stagnation. Judaism, divinely ordained, having fulfilled its purpose, had become shell without kernel, body without life. Philosophy might be beautiful, but was powerless to purify. St. Paul, coming over from Asia to preach to Europe, proclaimed salvation for a ruined world through a Man who had been crucified as a malefactor, but whom the missionary affirmed to be the Son of God and the only Saviour. He asserted, not simply that this Benefactor had suffered martyrdom, but that this martyrdom was the grand object for which He lived, by which alone salvation was secured, without which mental culture, philosophy, ethics, cult, or creed could not avail to save mankind from sin, and give assurance of the favour of God and eternal life.

Jews, who were dwelling in every city, and to whom the missionary, as a Jew, made his first appeal, were offended by being told to recognize their promised Messiah in a poor mechanic, trained at no college, invested with no dignity, His chief followers poor fishermen, and Himself put to the most shameful death as a felon. That by Him alone, and not by their own Law of Moses, they could be saved, was to them a ‘stumbling-block.’

The Jews ‘required a sign’; a miracle so stupendous as to forbid all doubt. Their old religion had been thus certified. Christ performed many quiet miracles of benevolence on earth, but they demanded a ‘sign from heaven.’ When He fed the multitudes and raised Lazarus they thought that as a Leader He might supply His armies with food, heal the wounded, and restore the slain.

Then they wanted to make Him their king. But when He meekly submitted to be bound and condemned, they were disappointed, and in their provocation shouted, ‘Crucify Him!’ They wanted a carnal Christ, a worldly king: and so the cross became a symbol of delusion, disgrace, defeat, ‘a stumbling-block.’

Not less did it appear ‘to the Greek foolishness.’ They despised the Jews as a petty, bigoted, exclusive, troublesome tribe of barbarians, in a narrow strip of country, lost to view in the great Empire that ruled them. That a peasant member of this despised race was to be accepted by them as superior to their own Plato or Socrates, be honoured as Ruler as well as Teacher, be trusted as sole Saviour of men, and worshipped as the one and only true incarnation of the Deity –this, to the Greek, was the extravagance of ‘foolishness.’

Earliest records tell us that the people generally accounted those to be ‘fools who gave rank to One crucified.’ They said that ‘they who worshipped a crucified man deserved to hang on the cross they adore.’ In Rome is a fragment of plaster from the ruins of the barracks of the Praetorian guard which bears traces of a rough caricature, as if scratched by the point of a sword. On a cross is suspended the figure of a man with the head of an ass, before which a soldier is on his knees; and below is the inscription, ‘Aleximenos worships his god.’

The Apostolic Missionary was sober in his enthusiasm, and did not needlessly provoke opposition. ‘I am become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some’ (1 Cor. 9: 20-22). Unless essential to his mission, he would not emphasize what was likely to hinder it, and close the ears of those he came to teach. Did he therefore keep the fact of the Atoning Sacrifice in the background, or reserve it for future unfolding? On the contrary, he made it prominent, and at once.

It was his dominant theme, the message he felt directed by God to convey. Men might deride, oppose, persecute, but all the more boldly he proclaimed it, emblazoned it on his standard, gave it trumpet-voice, declaring to the cultured Corinthians ‘I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ and Him crucified’ (1 Cor. 2:2). This was his boast, not his shame. ‘Far be it from me to glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ ‘ (Gal.6:14). The Jews might demand celestial signs, and the Greeks worldly wisdom, but he was determined to ‘preach Christ crucified,’ Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God’ (1 Cor. 1: 22-25).

History, lauding its heroes of freedom, science, and religion, has taught us to honour rather than be ashamed of those who have endured suffering and scorn for the sake of principle. But that God, incarnated, should stoop so low; that nothing less than the cross should suffice for man’s salvation; that all classes should be placed on a common level, needing the same Atonement, by which the most degraded criminal will be accepted, side by side with the seemingly blameless religionist, on repentance and faith; and that whatever we do that is commendable is accepted on the basis of what Christ did and suffered –this is too humbling for human pride.

As breakers of law we are disposed to under-rate the claims of law. Sinners naturally make light of sin, framing excuses for it, sometimes defending it, lessening the peril of it, or altogether denying both its guilt and penalty. ‘The unsearchable riches of Christ,’ revealed in His sufferings on our behalf, imply a destitution on our part greater than we are willing to acknowledge. Are our stains of so deep a dye that ‘the blood of Jesus Christ’ is needed to cleanse us? Is our distance from God so great that we can only ‘be made nigh in the blood of Christ?’ Offence is thus taken at the doctrine of Atonement, which is either denied, or explained as one among other moral influences by which man’s sinfulness may be overcome, and he be reconciled to God by amendment of life. Thus salvation is regarded as self-reformation, and not as forgiveness through faith in Him who died for our sins.

The Necessity of the Atonement

Taken and Adapted from “God’s Way of Peace.”
Written by Horatius Bonar
Edited for thought and sense.

lamb-of-god[We live in a day where the death of Christ is being trivialized. What need was there for it? Why would an Almighty God be so barbaric as to require this death, and not just any death, but the death of the God-man, Jesus Christ, and what did it really accomplish in the salvation of humanity? It seems that every assault upon the Christian faith these days involves an attack upon what is now commonly described as the “Substitution theory.” And while many of the other so-called modern theories seem new and “proper,” they really antiquated or at least greatly modified from original form in most theological circles. Unfortunately, their echoes remain in popular religious thought, and further, they trouble many minds which have not learned to distinguish between the Christian fact and the theological theory with which the respective characteristics of the substitutionary and non-substitutionary theories are framed. The historic concepts of the Sacrificial Atonement are usually viewed within the framework of the Penal, Substitutionary aspects, and are thereby contrasted with the Merely Moral or Exemplary Theories of Propitiation; the same of which as is often set forth in Modern thought….  However, in this post, I wish to get back to the simple basics of what Jesus accomplished for man on the cross. And I am very unapologetic that I hold to the historic and orthodox Christian view of the necessity of the shedding of blood chosen by the Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world. –M.W.P]

“What is the special meaning of the blood, of which we read so much? How does it speak peace? How does it ‘purge the conscience from dead works?’ (Heb. 9:14) “What can blood have to do with the peace, the grace, and the righteousness of which we have been speaking?”

God has given the reason for the stress which he lays upon the blood; and, in understanding this, we get to the very bottom of the grounds of a sinner’s peace.

The sacrifices of old, from the days of Abel downward, furnishes us with the key to the meaning of the blood…

…and explain the necessity for its being “shed for the remission of sins.” “Not without blood” (Heb. 9:7) was the great truth taught by God from the beginning; the inscription which may be said to have been written on the gates of tabernacle and temple. For more than two thousand years, during the ages of the patriarchs, there was but one great sacrifice, – THE BURNT OFFERING. This, under the Mosaic service, was split into parts, – the peace-offering, trespass offering, sin offering, etc. In all of these, however, the essence of the original burnt offering was preserved, – by the blood and the fire, which were common to them all.

The blood, as the emblem of substitution, and the fire, as the symbol of God’s wrath upon the substitute, were seen in all the parts of Israel’s service; but especially in the daily burnt offering, the morning and evening lamb, which was the true continuation and representative of the old patriarchal burnt offering. It was to this that John referred when he said “Behold the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Israel’s daily lamb was the kernel and core of all the Old Testament sacrifices; and it was its blood that carried them back to the primitive sacrifices, and forward to the blood of sprinkling that was to speak better things than that of Abel (Heb. 12:26).

In all these sacrifices the shedding of the blood was the infliction of death. The “blood was the life” (Lev. 17: 11, 14; Deut. 12:23); and the pouring out of the blood was the “pouring out of the soul” (Isa. 53:12). This blood shedding or life-taking was the payment of the penalty for sin; for it was threatened from the beginning, “In the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Gen. 2:17); and it is written, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Ezek. 18:3); and again, “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 7:23).

But the blood shedding of Israel’s sacrifices could not take sin away. It showed the way in which this was to be done, but it was in fact more a “remembrance of sins” (Heb. 10:3), than an expiation (Heb. 10:11). It said life must be given for life, ere sin can be pardoned; but then the continual repetition of the sacrifices showed that there was needed richer blood than Moriah’s altar was ever sprinkled with, and a more precious life than man could give.

The great blood-shedding has been accomplished; the better life has been presented; and the one death of the Son of God has done what all the deaths of old could never do. His one life was enough; his one dying paid the penalty; and God does not ask two lives, or two deaths, or two payments. “Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many” (Heb. 9:28). In that he died, he died unto sin once” (Rom. 6:10). “He offered one sacrifice for sins forever” (Heb. 10:12).

The “sprinkling of the blood” (Ex. 24:8), was the making use of the death, by putting it upon certain persons or things, so that these persons or things were counted to be dead, and, therefore, to have paid the law’s penalty. So long as they had not paid that penalty, they were counted unclean and unfit for God to look upon; but as soon as they had paid it, they were counted clean and fit for the service of God. Usually when we read of cleansing, we think merely of our common process of removing stains by water and soap. But this is not the figure meant in the application of the sacrifice. The blood cleanses, not like the prophet’s “nitre and much soap” (Jer. 2:22), but by making us partakers of the death of the Substitute. For what is it that makes us filthy before God? It is our guilt, our breach of law, and our being under sentence of death in consequence of our disobedience. We have not only done what God dislikes, but what his righteous law declares to be worthy of death. It is this sentence of death that separates us so completely from God, making it wrong for him to bless us, and perilous for us to go to him.

When thus covered all over with that guilt whose penalty is death, the blood is brought in by the great High Priest. That blood represents death; it is God’s expression for death. It is then sprinkled on us, and thus death, which is the law’s penalty, passes on us. We die. We undergo the sentence; and thus the guilt passes away. We are cleansed! The sin which was like scarlet becomes as snow; and that which was like crimson becomes as wool. It is thus that we make use of the blood of Christ in believing; for faith is just the sinner’s employing the blood. Believing what God has testified concerning this blood, we become one with Jesus in his death; and thus we are counted in law, and treated by God, as men who have paid the whole penalty, and so been “washed from their sins in his blood.”*

Such are the glad tidings of life, through him who died. They are tidings which tell us, not what we are to do, in order to be saved, but what He has done. This only can lay to rest the sinner’s fears; can “purge his conscience;” can make him feel as a thoroughly pardoned man. The right knowledge of God’s meaning in this sprinkling of the blood, is the only effectual way of removing the anxieties of the troubled soul, and introducing him into perfect peace.

The gospel is not the mere revelation of the heart of God in Christ Jesus.

In it the righteousness of God is specially manifested (Rom 1:17); and it is this revelation of the righteousness that makes it so truly “the power of God unto salvation” (Rom. 1:16). The blood shedding is God’s declaration of the righteousness of the love which he is pouring down upon the sons of men; it is the reconciliation of law and love; the condemnation of the sin and the acquittal of the sinner. As “without shedding of blood there is no remission” (Heb. 9:22); so the gospel announces that the blood has been shed by which remission flows; and now we know that “the Son of God is come” (I John 5:20), and that “the blood of Christ cleanses us from all sin” (I John 1:7). The conscience is satisfied. It feels that God’s grace is righteous grace, that his love is holy love. There it rests.

It is not by incarnation but by blood shedding that we are saved. The Christ of God is no mere expounder of wisdom; no mere deliverer or gracious benefactor; and they who think they have told the whole gospel, when they have spoken of Jesus revealing the love of God, do greatly err. If Christ be not the Substitute, he is nothing to the sinner. If he did not die as the Sinbearer, he has died in vain. Let us not be deceived on this point, nor misled by those who, when they announce Christ as the Deliverer, think they have preached the gospel. If I throw a rope to a drowning man, I am a deliverer. But is Christ no more than that? If I cast myself into the sea, and risk my life to save another, I am a deliverer. But is Christ no more? Did he but risk his life? The very essence of Christ’s deliverance is the substitution of Himself for us, his life for ours. He did not come to risk his life; he came to die! He did not redeem us by a little loss, a little sacrifice, a little labor, a little suffering, “He redeemed us to God by his blood” (Rev. 5:9); “the precious blood of Christ” (I Pet. 1:18). He gave all he had, even his life, for us. This is the kind of deliverance that awakens the happy song, “To him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood.”

The tendency of the world’s religion just now is, to reject the blood; and to glory in a gospel which needs no sacrifice, no “Lamb slain.” Thus, they go “in the way of Cain” (Jude 11). Cain refused the blood, and came to God without it. He would not own himself a sinner, condemned to die, and needing the death of another to save him. This was man’s open rejection of God’s own way of life. Foremost in this rejection of, what is profanely called by some scoffers, “the religion of the shambles,” we see the first murderer; and he who would not defile his altar with the blood of a lamb, pollutes the earth with his brother’s blood.

The heathen altars have been red with blood; and to this day they are the same. But these worshippers know not what they mean, in bringing that blood. It is associated only with vengeance in their minds; and they shed it, to appease the vengeance of their gods. But this is no recognition either of the love or the righteousness of God. “Fury is not in him;” whereas their altars speak only of fury. The blood which they bring is a denial both of righteousness and grace.

But look at Israel’s altars. There is blood; and they who bring it know the God to whom they come. They bring it in acknowledgment of their own guilt, but also of his pardoning love. They say, “I deserve death;” but let this death stand for mine; and let the love which otherwise could not reach me, by reason of guilt, now pour itself out on me.”

Inquiring soul!  Beware of Cain’s error on the one hand, in coming to God without blood…

…and beware of the heathen error on the other, in mistaking the meaning of the blood. Understand God’s mind and meaning, in “the precious blood” of his Son. Believe his testimony concerning it; so shall thy conscience be pacified, and thy soul find rest.

It is into Christ’s death, that we are baptized (Rom. 6:3), and hence the cross, which was the instrument of that death, is that in which we “glory” (Gal. 6:4). The cross is to us the payment of the sinner’s penalty, the extinction of the debt, and the tearing up of the bond or handwriting which was against us. And as the cross is the payment, so the resurrection is God’s receipt in full, for the whole sum, signed with his own hand. Our faith is not the completion of the payment, but the simple recognition on our part of the payment made by the Son of God. By this recognition, we become so one with Him who died and rose, that we are henceforth reckoned to be the parties who have paid he penalty, and treated as if it were we ourselves who had died.

Thus are we “justified from the sin,” and then made partakers of the righteousness of him, who was not only delivered for our offences, but who rose again for our justification.