THE DIVINE ARCH OF HUMAN REDEMPTION (16)
We need little reminding that we are transient ephemeral beings. Our lives can be likened to the reading of a book. As the scriptures express it: “we spend our years as a tale that is told”. The pages of the book are turned over day by day. Chapter succeeds chapter as the various stages of life proceed until inevitably we arrive, as in all things human, to the end. The final chapter is reached, the ultimate paragraph read, and the final sentence complete. We return to the ground from whence we came – dust we are and unto dust we return, and become as though we had never been. It is the law of death, immutable in it’s operation upon all the progeny of Adam and is God’s judgement upon the law of sin with which by natural descent they come into the world. In a few short years, the very remembrance of our existence, from the natural standpoint, is forgotten.
From the earliest times, men have endeavoured to discover for themselves a remedy. This they have singularly failed to do, try as they will, to discover the elixir of life. In these days of increased knowledge, we are not unmindful or unthankful for the skill and dedication of the medical profession and their ability to prolong life in many marvellous ways. It is, however, salutary to remember the tremendous expense of it all. The National Health Service in Britain alone is costing many billions of pounds a year, and ever on the increase. Yet still the death rate is as it ever was – one hundred percent. This failure is entirely due to the fact that men refuse to acknowledge the root cause of the problem and turn away from the only source of enlightenment – God’s word. Men have discovered no remedy for death, only palliatives for the process.
But men are resourceful and devious. What they do not like, they do not accept. So since the dawn of history, their philosophers have by subtle words and quite remarkable verbal ingenuity made bold to assert that, in reality, death does not exist. So plausible and yet so utterly false has been their sophistry that it is itself a phenomenon needing an explanation. When Henry Longfellow a century ago wrote in his poem Resignation, “There is no death: what seems so is transition; this life of mortal breath is but a suburb of the life Elysian; whose portals we call death”, or Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “The blazing evidence of immortality is our dissatisfaction with any other solution”, they were merely echoing what has been accepted as true since men existed down to our own day, without tangible evidence. Indeed, that very fact, seeing that men clutch at any straw, is used as part of their proof. It is, they assert, the long tradition of their Fathers.
From the earliest times of recorded history, from ancient Babylon, Egypt, Assyria, Greece, or Rome to the present day, men of whatever race or colour have this in common: their belief in a continuance of life after death. From the Eskimo of the Polar regions to the Pygmies of the jungle; from the most cultured of men to the untutored savage races; from the wandering Arab of the desert to the masses of mankind in China; all in their several ways believe that the reality of death is fantasy. It is a quite fascinating study to read by what names their final idyllic world is called, and by what diverse means it will eventually be reached.
It may be wondered why, in the context of our subject, we should at all touch upon this aspect of human affairs. The reasons are twofold:
- It serves to illustrate the Truth concerning the fall of man, and why men are so gullibly responsive to thoughts and ideas which are foreign to God’s Word and which find a complete affinity with the subtlety of the serpent, from whom we may trace their source. The sum total of the thinking of men is thereby conditioned to receive the most incredulous of deceits on the most important of matters, especially that of life and death. This can be the only answer to the phenomenon.
- It gives emphasis to the essential need to empty ourselves of any ideas of our own on the subject; for it is when we realise that the answer can only come from God that there is hope for us finding the solution. Men are prone to error, and in this matter we cannot afford to make a mistake. God is omnipotent, omniscient and eternal; and He has, in His Love, condescension and compassion to fallen man, provided the answer.
THE DIVINE REMEDY
In the course of the preceding chapters, we have endeavoured to make plain from the Scriptures God’s teaching concerning sin and death. We have observed that sin is not only transgression of Divine Law, but is also an innate power possessed by all men and which is the cause of transgression. Not only so, but this power is of such virulence that all men, with one notable exception have succumbed to it’s insidious influence.
How then in this situation can it be possible for God to grant eternal life to men without compromise to His righteousness and justice, seeing that He has condemned sin, both cause and effect, to death? The answer is seen in Jesus, the only begotten of the Father, by reason of which he was made strong for the purpose of taking away sin by the sacrifice of himself. Jesus, as a man knew what was in man. He acknowledged God’s righteous judgement upon sin by voluntarily laying down his life of perfect obedience. Although never being guilty of transgression, he submitted to be crucified, thereby exterminating in himself that sin, that diabolos, which is the cause of transgression, and which as the Scriptures declare, ‘has the power of death’.
CHRIST’S MODE OF DEATH
It is, we feel, not without significance that Jesus died in the way that he did. It is recorded in the 35th chapter of Isaiah concerning the sacrifice of our Lord, that “it pleased the Lord to bruise him, he hath put him to grief”- an amazing statement which, on first reading, leaves us almost speechless. But here was no sadistic work of a vengeful God, but rather the exhibition of the interplay of all the attributes of a perfect Being. In it’s outworking, the sacrifice of Christ reveals God’s righteousness, justice, mercy and love.
The quite dreadful death by crucifixion serves to remind us in all its excruciating pain and suffering, how obnoxious in the sight of God sin really is. Jesus recognised the exceeding sinfulness of the diabolos, the cause of transgression. Destroy that, and there can be no transgression. Its power of death is removed, and the foundation laid for a newness of life in immortality. It was that knowledge which nerved him for the strife, and in his victory vindicated and made manifest all the attributes of His Father – the God whom we worship.
In so doing, there was restored that beautiful harmony which had once existed in Eden before sin had marred the relationship between the Creator and man. In bringing reconciliation in the manner we have found from the Scriptures, it was not possible for him to be held by the grave. This was because it would have been manifestly unjust. Jesus had declared God’s righteousness by a public declaration of it. He had never transgressed Divine law at any time, and the diabolos which he destroyed in his death was his by inheritance and not therefore a matter for which he was responsible.
So on the third day following his crucifixion, God raised him from the dead, made after the power of an endless life, to die no more. Moreover, he was elevated above all principalities and powers, called to sit at the right hand of the Father, and given all power in heaven and earth, that the great purpose God had from the beginning might be consummated in him at the time appointed.
GLORY TO BE SHARED
This great honour, glory and immortality is for the present his and his alone among the sons of men. It is altogether the sole right and possession of Jesus, the Christ, given him by his Father because of what he accomplished by his sacrifice. But the work of redemption goes on. Jesus has promised to share all that has been given him with those who become identified with him in name and character. The means provided is by baptism into Christ. Thus we can “put on Christ”. We can become part of him. We can become a member of a corporate, multitudinous Christ. In this way, all that has been accomplished by Jesus for redemption is extended to those who are Christ’s. By the grace of God, we have our past sins washed away in the waters of baptism, and thereafter our sins, upon repentance of them, are forgiven for Christ’s sake. Predicated as this was and is upon the great sacrifice of our Lord, we can appreciate the fullness of certain relevant passages of Scripture. For instance, the Apostle Peter in his first letter wrote: “… who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed” (2:24).
It must be evident that the sins of those who shall be the heirs of salvation were not literally borne by Jesus at his crucifixion. For one thing, a substantial number of those “called out” ones were not yet born. But once we realise the Divine scheme of redemption in Christ, its principles and ground for forgiveness of sins, we are able to appreciate the sense in which the language of the apostle is to be understood. Here indeed, the condescension and mercy of God to fallen humanity is marvellously exhibited, and without compromise to His righteousness or justice.
Our sins could not be forgiven on any principle that could exhibit those qualities, other than that demonstrated in the sacrifice of our Lord. It was not possible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins, as the writer to the Hebrews declares (10:4). Why not? The answer is that the animals themselves had no direct relationship to, responsibility for, or consciousness of the sins for which they were sacrificed. They were not even substitutes, for the sins for which they were offered were not forgiven – they were covered over for the time then present. The efficacy of the offerings lay in the appreciation (in the minds of the offerers) of the one whom they prefigured, provided by God, of our nature, who would once for all offer himself a perfect sacrifice in the manner and on the principles we have explained. We see exhibited here love of a transcendent kind beyond our finite minds fully to appreciate.
It must be noted, however, that the efficacy of the arrangement is conditional. The Apostle Paul, in writing to the Corinthians in his second letter, states:
“For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: and that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again … Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. And all things are of God, Who hath reconciled us to Himself by Jesus Christ … reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them” (5:14-19).
So we appreciate the words of John: “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life”. Here we see through to the end, even the creation of an order of things – a cosmos of Divine beauty, harmony and peace. It was that which God had in mind from the beginning and which He, and He alone, made possible by consummation through Christ. The thought that overwhelms us is that you and I have been called of Him to form part of it in spite of ourselves.
THE NEED FOR UNDERSTANDING
It must, I feel, now be clear why the saving efficacy of this wonderful provision of God for the salvation of men in Christ must be properly understood. Firstly, the doctrine of the Atonement is a vital one, for it is at the very heart of the accomplishment of the purpose of God for man. All the doctrines which make up the Truth impinge upon this central teaching. Secondly, there must be added to a right understanding, a conforming in practice to the newness of life it demands (Rom 12:1,2).
Now it is part of the wonder and arrangement that the rite of baptism comprehends in itself all the principles involved, and serves to emphasise why it is so essential to understand the matter, for God is not interested in mere credulity. These principles can be summarised as follows:
- God is the Supreme Being, jealous of His supremacy, but righteous and just in all his ways.
- There must be an acknowledgement that we are all the fallen children of Adam.
- Death is God’s judgement upon sin.
- Sin is transgression of God’s law.
- Transgression is an effect, the cause of which is the diabolos, alias the devil, or satan.
- This diabolos is a power in every man, innate from birth, directly traceable to our first parents who derived it by imbibing the mind of the serpent. It is a law in our members, carnal, lustful and at enmity with God.
- This law is also called sin in Scripture, a law from which man is unable to break free. He is therefore, of himself, without hope.
- Salvation is of God through His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ our representative who, overcame sin whilst he was living so that he never transgressed. He then destroyed the diabolos, the cause of transgression by taking it in his own body to be crucified. He was then raised from death to life eternal by God in justification.
- Immortality is the gift of God by grace to all who put on Christ in baptism, become members of the Divine family thereby, and continue in faith and practice to emulate their Lord who died for them.
- Baptism is an act commanded by God which symbolically re-enacts these truths, declaring the believer’s appreciation of them.
The principles above are worked out for us by the Apostle Paul, particularly in his letter to the Romans. They reveal a progression of thought which resolves all problems and can only stem from God. We can but list a few salient passages which testify to these statements, and request the reader to look them up: Acts 17:24,25,28; Rom 5:12, 1Cor 15:21, Rom 5:19; Col 1:12-15, 18-23; Rom 6:1-13,21,23.
Here, in this sequence of Scripture quotations, are the principles stated which together form the doctrine of the Atonement. Our baptism into Christ is, or should be, the public declaration, not only of our true estate before God, but also of our perception and understanding of the Divine principles governing salvation. It is that perception which is the motivating force to render obedience, and which supplies a rationale for our actions.
THE PROMISES CONFIRMED
One more thing requires to be stated. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Galatians in well-known words: “for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Acts 3:28,29).
The sacrifice of Christ, the shedding of his blood, confirmed those exceeding great and precious promises made unto the fathers of Israel. They were so well ratified thereby that their fulfilment is as certain as the very existence of God and the ordinances of Heaven. By it the chains of death have been broken, the prison house doors unlocked; and in due time the faithful of all ages will emerge as “an army with banners”.
The “things concerning … the name of Jesus Christ”, of which the doctrine of the Atonement is a central and key feature, lead on to “things concerning the kingdom of God,” and together form the Gospel message. That message is, as the word signifies, good news. It would perhaps be better expressed as “God news”, for it is altogether a message which is Divine. As the Apostle Paul declares, “all things are of God, Who hath reconciled us to Himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; to wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation” (2Cor 5:19).
It is a comparatively straightforward matter to preach and teach men concerning the kingdom of God and it’s restitution. It is so down to earth, tangible in it’s development and capable of historical evidence for it’s acceptance through “times and seasons,” making its study quite enthralling. But the “things concerning … the name of Jesus Christ” demand the exercise of concentrated thought with a mind exorcised of all human philosophy.
The doctrines taught in the Scriptures are like the God from Whom they originate: absolute. They are not matters of human speculation, neither are they discerned by that process of thought which distinguishes human scholarship. Indeed, it is in the measure that we empty ourselves of such erudition that we shall the sooner and better absorb the wisdom that is of God, and found in His Word. That Word is so written that it’s teaching and message, when approached with the awe and reverence which it demands as an emanation from the Father, will enlighten, transform and finally elevate us to an equality with the angels, to die no more. The very thought overwhelms us. The price of it’s accomplishment in us is a humble, ready response, in study, faith and practice, to the requirements of the Truth, having realised the price paid for our redemption.
There is no contemplation for man higher, nobler or more sublime than that embodied in the doctrine of the atonement. It lies at the heart of that which constitutes the gospel. In it we comprehend all aspects of God’s character; we have His existence confirmed, His justice meted out, His righteousness vindicated, His love demonstrated, His mercy extended, His fellowship offered. His example in Christ exemplified, His life to share.
It is impossible to conceive of objectives grander or more worthy of attainment than those offered by God to men in Christ. Such love is greater that we can fully absorb, for it is absolute, and we are finite. Its contemplation and exercise will enlarge the mind, sharpen our perception, purify our heart, and give us that wisdom which is beyond price. We can at least endeavour to respond with all that in us lies, ever having respect unto the recompense of the reward.