Editor’s note: There was no Circular Letter that year, so William Cathcart made the motion that the doctrinal sermon be printed by the Association and published in the Minutes.
Philadelphia Baptist Association Minutes, 1874
The Doctrinal Sermon
By Howard Osgood, D.D.
The Person of Christ in its Relation to the Atonement
“It is Finished” - John xix. 30.
THESE were the last words of the great sufferer on Calvary. They are the last wail of the expiring tempest, bearing on its bosom out of that dire conflict the assurance of the perfect work and perfect victory of Christ, by whose “one offering he hath perfected forever them that are sanctified.”
The scene of that suffering has been the spiritual pilgrimage of every soul since brought by the Spirit to Christ. Around it cluster the holiest thoughts of the soul. The agonies and woes of hearts crushed and broken, the sorrows too deep for human sympathy, too tender for human touch, the burden of the widow, the aching void of the orphan; souls trembling, tottering on the brink of everlasting woe, have been brought here, and here received “beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.”
But go back in spirit to the day on which these words were uttered, and what a change from the holy, tender thoughts we cherish of that sufferer. Behold Jerusalem in her pride, as the clear sun of early spring rises from behind the mountains of Moab, and pours its golden waves upon the city, “beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, Mount Zion,” “the city of the Great King!” There is the temple, with its wide courts and marvellous cloisters, its smoking altar and its spotless fane, its white-robed priests, and Israelites from every clime chanting the God-given songs, which have been their fathers' songs for centuries. To the north rises the fortress of Antonia, the grim Roman sentinel of the city, and beyond are the theatre and the hippodrome amid lordly dwellings and luxuriant gardens. To the west, across the valley of the Tyropoeon, over which stretched the great bridge, on the hill of Zion, far over to the western wall, were the palaces of the high priests and of the princes of Judah; palace after palace set in gardens, which vied with those of Ahasuerus. Around the city, on the Mount of Olives, in the valley of Jehoshaphat, and over the knolls and vales of the country north and west of the city, stand thick together the tents of pilgrims who have come up to the great feast “in the mountain of the Lord's house.” But in the midst of all this culture, and refinement, and devotion, there was brazen-browed and iron-handed treason against Jehovah.
In the early morning hours, in the judgment-hall of Pilate, there has been a strange mixture of an Oriental and a Roman trial. A quiet, uncomplaining man has excited the bitter, cruel animosity of Scribe and Pharisee. They clamor for his crucifixion. They desire his death more than that of a robber and murderer. This man has made great
cures of the sick, has raised the dead to life, has spoken such words of love as no mortal's ear ever heard before; but he has claimed also to be God, and, at this, priest and Levite, Scribe and Pharisee, shut their ears and rend their garments, and adjudge him worthy of death. Roman and Jew agree, and he was delivered to be crucified. The Roman was too much accustomed to blood, the Jew was too bitter to care for the sorrows of his heart. The guard is called out, cold as their swords, cruel as death; the short order is given, and this man, with two malefactors also to be crucified—this man bruised from scourging, his head wounded, his face marred with spittle, is placed within the guard, compelled to bear his cross, and to march with the quick-footed Roman. A motley crowd follows on. A few women, brave when all else fear, loving when all else are cold, raise a lament, but do not for one instant retard that death march. They have reached the swelling ground beyond the city gate, and it is but a moment's work, for those long trained to it, to nail and bind the Victim to the cross, and leave him to his unspeakable pangs.
It is the short hour of triumph for priest and Pharisee. They wag the head; they jeer at his agony; and turn with gladness to their homes. They saw in him only what they wished to see - a mere man, and, if a mere man, then, by their law, he ought to die. But be not bitter against the Jew. He did only what, since that day, every man has done who has seen in Christ only human nature, however exalted - crucified him.
All this is not without its potent lesson, even on their assumption. Jesus Christ, the Crucified, is proved by Roman and Jew to have been a man. The hard, cruel, legal Roman knew him a man and gave him to death as any other man. The ritualistic, disputatious, bigoted Jew condemned him as a man, and, being in their eyes only a man, they awarded him the Mosaic penalty for blasphemy in claiming to be God.
But from guilty, repentant Peter, from the weeping, ministering women, from John who stood near the cross, from Paul on the road to Damascus, down through all ages, in every clime, each heart, taught by the Spirit to know its sin, and to seek refuge in God, has found peace and pardon, atonement and reconciliation at the cross of Jesus, because they have seen and known with assurance doubly sure that that meek sufferer was God and man; and in the midst of the sneer of the Roman and the taunt of the Scribe, they have cried –
“See streaming from the accursed tree
His all-atoning blood.
Is this the Infinite? 'Tis He,
My Saviour and my God.”
The importance, then, of the scriptural teaching concerning the Person of Christ cannot be over-estimated. The importance, the value, the validity of his work for man depend entirely on what he was in himself. On the decision of this question hang the tremendous issues of eternal life or eternal death, of a sure hope now for every believer, or of utter despair for the whole world.
I am sure, my brethren, you would not ask me, as I should feel loath to enter upon the discussion of cheerless human speculation on this deepest, holiest, most precious question. We do not gather here as to a Clinique, where abnormal and diseased growths, as well as the skill of the surgeon, are to be shown; but we gather here to speak to one another of that which is dearest to us all, the very mercy-seat
sprinkled with blood under the glory of God, whence we derive all our hope and all our salvation. Mine be the happier task to set before you, as far as I can, THE DOCTRINE OF THE PERSON OF CHRIST IN RELATION TO THE ATONEMENT, as the Scriptures declare it.
THE FIRST STATEMENT OF THE DOCTRINE. - Those first words of gospel grace which sounded out from the midst of the awful curse of death, “I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; he shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel” - these words have been treated as though they were only a faint hint, a dim insinuation, a glimmer in the darkness, encouraging man to hope, but revealing no positive scheme of salvation, no firm resting-place for faith. According to much of the theology of the present day in the interpretation of the Old Testament, the patriarchs and prophets were the original Unitarians, knowing only God the Father, walking by law as the condition of salvation, seeking justification in their personal righteousness, and for all deficiencies on their part looking to the mercy of God. Of a divine-human Saviour, of being just before God by faith alone, of the resurrection from the dead, of eternal life in the presence of God, they are said to have been utterly ignorant, because these doctrines were not revealed. Then how were they saved? But this is not the theology of the centuries, it is not the theology of the Reformation, it is not the theology of our Baptist fathers, it is not the theology which can stand, for it is not the teaching of the Old or the New Testament. That the patriarchs and prophets, all the saints of the Old Testament, knew the Saviour, were brought to God through the Saviour, were justified by faith alone, believed in the resurrection and in eternal life with God, is the constant assertion of the New Testament; and we should be careful in our interpretation of distant parts of the one Word of God, lest by our reasoning we bring them into bald contradiction. There were different dispensations of the same grace; there were different degrees of illumination upon the same path of salvation. There never were, because there never could be, two ways of salvation: one for dark men, and one for white men; one for barbarians, and one for the enlightened; one for men before Christ, and another for men after Christ. The great central facts of the scheme of salvation, the New Testament asserts, were revealed from the beginning. These facts were illustrated and explained as the centuries rolled on, until all revelation found its fullest illustration and proof in the person, and work, and words of Christ.
Adam and Eve were not barbarians. Barbarians are the fruit of sin, not the creation of God, who made man in his own image, and pronounced him very good. It is false reasoning to argue from the earlier lower forms of animals to a similar development in man, because in this the grand difference between man and the animals, the possession of a soul, is lost sight of. Those lower forms of animals could perfectly fulfil the end for which they were created, but no barbarian, ignorant of God and his will, can fulfil the end for which he was created, which is to know God, to do his will, and to enjoy him forever. A man that knows God and his will is no barbarian. The analogy of Adam and Eve before the fall is to be found only in those who, redeemed by the Second Adam, after the resurrection shall stand before the throne in their glorified bodies, their souls cleared of all sin, and who are entirely conformed to the will of God.
To this man and woman, fresh from knowing God and his will, now under the curse, with the great powers of their souls clouded, disorganized, but not destroyed, the promise, the only promise is given that the seed of the woman should bruise the serpent’s head; that is, Satan was to be overcome and crushed by one who was to be the seed of the woman. We are apt to give to “seed” here a collective force, as though it might refer to all or to a number of those who should issue from Eve; but both the Hebrew and the later Scriptures point to a single Person, “he shall bruise thy head.” Plainly this Deliverer, born of a woman, was to be a man. But is that all? Adam and Eve in their perfect state, yet with the possibility of sinning, had met this great adversary, and had been easily and completely overthrown by him. He had proved himself far superior to them in this contest for their souls. Could there be hope for them in a renewal of this contest by one of their issue, like themselves weakened by sin, or even like them as they were before their fall. With what vividness of realization must the hopelessness of such a contest have impressed their minds, standing yet in Eden, face to face with God, with his curse and their destroyer. If this destroyer was to be overcome, there was need, not only of a man, but of one more powerful than all creatures, who is also very God.
The later fulfilment of the prophecy and the explanations of the later Scriptures, prove this to be the burden of these words; that the Redeemer from sin and Satan was to be God and man in one person. And if here begins the christology, if here is predicted the divine-human Saviour, then the source of the life of faith of Abel, Enoch, Noah, and Abraham, becomes clear. But if here is only a tantalizing hint, a Delphic riddle, then we know not where to find the word on which their faith rested.
We are told that it was impossible for Adam and Eve to have known the doctrine of the incarnation. Certainly it was, unless God revealed this wonder of his grace to them. We do not now comprehend the incarnation; we believe it because God positively asserts it, and has given us every proof of it. Was there any greater difficulty to Adam and Eve to believe God's word than for us? Was there as great difficulty for them as for us? Before their eyes God then stood in human form, and by this gave an incontestable proof of the possibility of the In Carnation.
Another point which proves to my own mind that Jehovah's incarnation was understood by these words, is that at the birth of her first son, Eve turns from her pain to look upon the face of her child, and exclaims, “I have gotten a man, even Jehovah.” By the simple rules of grammar this translation is the only natural one. Against it and in favor of the usual translation, there is urged the assertion that Eve could not have had any idea of the incarnation. Entirely mistaken as she was in her application of the prophecy, the literal translation of her words leads me to believe that she did look forward to the Deliverer being Jehovah and man in one person.
You will mark that the visible appearances of Jehovah in form as a man were almost all to the patriarchs. It is the early part of revelation that is illumined with these ocular demonstrations of the possibility of the incarnation. The prophecy of the fact and the clear illustration of the fact are given to the early believers, while the larger inferences and doctrinal statements concerning this fact are reserved for the later books of the Old Testament.
And no sooner is this prophecy of the divine-human Saviour from sin given, than the way by which he is to save is also set forth by symbol while yet in Eden; by Jehovah's slaying animals and covering our first parents with the skins. Are we told that there is no evidence of sacrifice here? We reply, Leviticus does not introduce a new ritual of sacrifice, it only enlarges the ritual of Genesis. And in that treatise by God on sacrifice and expiation the animal slain in sacrifice is said to cover over the offerer, and the offerer is clear by reason of this covering of his guilt. What we call atonement in Leviticus is by the primary and frequent use of the Hebrew word, a covering. Are we also told that this covering of our first parents was for the purpose of clothing in the usual sense? The answer is manifold. Man had already devised a covering for his nakedness that was sufficient, and did not demand a life to obtain it. Just as man rises in the scale of intelligence he rejects the clothing of skins for better garments. Garments of skins are the poor resource of barbarians. Was Jehovah—for it was he who put these skins on our first parents - was he, who had just finished the creation of the world in all its beauty and wealth, at such a loss for garments for guilty man, that he could find no better substitute than to destroy life for that purpose? No, any interpretation of this covering but the symbolical one casts in Jehovah's face the imputation of a want of wisdom. But that this covering was symbolical is proved by the subsequent teaching of the Bible; and thus Genesis, and Leviticus, and Isaiah, and Romans, and Hebrews, stand in one line, bound by the scarlet tie of the blood of atonement.
This divine-human Saviour was to save man from sin by sacrifice. Man was to be saved by his blood and covered by his righteousness, and brought back again to fellowship with God.
When Abel arranged his sacrifice upon the altar and looked up, it was not into the mist and haze of presumption, of baseless hope, “if haply he might feel after God and find him,” but as the Holy Spirit tells us, he offered his sacrifice in faith, that faith which is “assurance of things hoped for, a conviction of things not seen,” which faith is founded on the word of God and looks into the face of the Divine Saviour, the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. And thus Abel became the first one in heaven who could sing the song no angel could reach -
“A song unknown to angel ears,
A song that told of banished fears,
Of pardoned sins and dried-up tears.”
THE LATER ELABORATION OF THE DOCTRINE of THE PERSON of CHRIST. - If one were asked, “Where shall I find an epitome of the theology of all Christians in all centuries, not the dry bones of the polemical battle-field, but the doctrine of God and of his salvation—which has been the very life-blood of Christians?” What answer springs to the lips? None other than the hymns of the people of God, for they are the soul's expression of its life in its highest, holiest exercise. We do not look for systematic theology in a hymn of praise or prayer, but only those hymns which are the ripe fruit of deep soul-knowledge of God and his salvation have ever obtained any hold on the minds of God's children.
And herein is found the source of those wells of salvation in the Psalms, out of which the Church of God has been refreshed during its
journey of three thousand years. It is to these most precious expressions of the life of God in the soul of man, that we turn in our hours of deepest need, of weariness with self and sin, of sorrow and longing which none but God can see, and find there the only words which at all articulate our groanings which cannot be uttered. On what, then, did these singers before the throne, who knew themselves pilgrims and strangers here seeking “a better country, that is, a heavenly,” on what did they rely for salvation?
The Second Psalm strikes the key-note of salvation to which all the rest are attuned. The Saviour is the Son of God, sitting at the right hand of Jehovah on His throne as rightful governor of the world; of the same nature as Jehovah, yet distinguished from him, for Jehovah addresses him, and he speaks of Jehovah. This begotten Son of Jehovah is the Lord of the whole earth by the gift of Jehovah, and in him alone is there salvation. Blessed are all they that find refuge in and trust him. The divine nature of the Saviour, and his distinction from Jehovah the Father, is proclaimed as the hope of the soul in the forty-fifth and one hundred and tenth Psalm, and this interpretation of the words has the seal of the Saviour and of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament. But look now to that Psalm, the twenty-second, which is the revelation of the human soul of the Saviour. The few words spoken by the Saviour in Gethsemane give us a glimpse of the surging waters of that baptism where with he was to be baptized; but in this Psalm we have the agony of his life, the vast billows of the winter, midnight Atlantic, when navies are stranded. It is the prayer of a human soul, with no sins of his own to confess, but bearing woes which no words can adequately voice, for his brethren's sake, “that all the ends of the world may remember and turn to Jehovah, and all the kindreds of the nations worship before him.” It is the prayer of him, who, “though he were a son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered.” And because this is the prayer of his human soul –
“If we are travelling home to God
In the way the fathers trod,”
sooner or later this Psalm will be inwrought into our souls, “for even hereunto were ye called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example that ye should follow his steps.”
Let us pass to the pages of the world’s “master in the school of highest reason,” the grandest poet of all ages, the golden-mouthed prophet, one of the two profoundest theologians God ever sent forth to justify his ways to man, Isaiah. Read his pages, and there will arise before you the lines of a theology, exact, symmetrical, clear as the light of God, profound as eternity. From the first word of his book to the last there is set forth, in words that leap with the live thunder and flash with the fire of God, the irreconcilable enmity between God and sin. There is no excuse in all the universe for sin. It is not a disease merely. It is not merely a misfortune, a failure; it is high treason lifting its rampant, abhorrent form against Jehovah's person and government. There can be but one issue. Jehovah shall punish sin with everlasting destruction from his presence and from the glory of his power. But in the midst of every denunciation of sin, there is the tender, yearning, earnest call of God to the sinner, to all sinners, to return to him by the Saviour, whom he has appointed. The person and work of this Saviour, the necessity and design of this person and work, and the glorious
result of this work, are set forth in the clearest lineaments, and with all the power and beauty, the majesty and splendor of diction that human language, under the mighty impulse of the spirit of God, can bear.
In the first circle of prophecies, comprising the first twelve chapters, the Saviour is announced to the people at the deepest point of their sin and misery. Again the prophecy flames out as it did in Eden, it is the seed of the woman. “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel,” God with us. Yea, man and yet God. And lest there should be any misinterpretation of the full meaning of this prophecy, it is elaborated in the following words: “Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called’’ (that is, he shall be) “Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.” As to his lineage according to the flesh, he is to be of the stem of Jesse, the family of David; and as to his human nature, he is to be taught of Jehovah in all wisdom and understanding, that he may judge the poor with righteousness, and cover the earth with the knowledge of God, and with peace as the waters cover the sea.
There was no difficulty to Isaiah in the clearest assertion of the two natures, divine and human, in the Saviour of sinners. In this first circle of prophecies it is the human nature of Christ that is emphasized, while his Deity is also asserted. In the last series of prophecies, from the fortieth to the sixty-sixth chapter, it is the Deity of the Saviour that is prominently brought forward; for we are to look down into that infinite abysm of condescension and suffering whereby we are delivered from guilt and sin. In chapters forty to forty-eight the burden of God’s exhortation to the people is, “Fear not,” for your Saviour is God, Jehovah. Man is as grass that withereth, and idols are nothing and less than nothing, but your Saviour is Jehovah. He shall come as a tender shepherd, though the mighty God, and all the power of the world, of sin, of Satan cannot impair the certainty of his salvation for all who trust him. This Saviour, Jehovah, is also Jehovah's servant sent by Jehovah. While he is Jehovah, God, there is yet such a distinction between Jehovah and Jehovah the Spirit and Jehovah the Saviour, that Jehovah and Jehovah the Spirit are said to send Jehovah the Saviour, as in the following passage where Jehovah the Saviour speaks (xlviii. 16), “Come ye near to me, hear ye this, I have not spoken in secret from the beginning: from the time that it was, there am I; and now, Jehovah God and his spirit hath sent me;” or in other words, “When time began I am there,” that is, before all creation I am, for time began with creation. And yet he who thus predicates eternal existence of himself declares that he is sent by Jehovah and his Spirit.
Time would fail us to do more than to turn to another representation of this Saviour. It is to that chapter in Isaiah, the fifty-third, to which the wounded soul turns as to the cross of Christ in the New Testament. “I pray thee of whom speaketh the prophet this? Of himself or of some other man? Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus.” Did Philip take this as his text, and accommodate the passage to Jesus, or was his the only tenable interpretation? Every other interpretation is absolutely excluded by this one fact, that is indelibly stamped upon and interwoven with the whole chapter, this Sufferer was sinless. Bruised and marred,
stricken, smitten, afflicted, despised, yet he was without sin. It is not only asserted by his bearing the sins of others, which he could not do by all Old Testament teaching, if he were a sinner himself, but it is said, “He did no violence, neither was deceit found in his mouth,” which in the New Testament (1 Peter ii.22) is interpreted, “Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth.” As to the person of Jehovah's servant, he was to be a mortal man, like ourselves, suffering pangs and infirmities. He was to appear on earth as a little child. “He shall grow up as a tender plant.” The word here translated “tender plant” is everywhere else and frequently translated a “suckling,” or “sucking child ;” as, “out of the mouths of babes and sucklings thou hast ordained strength.” He shall grow up as a little child and reach manhood, and then be numbered with transgressors, be despised and rejected of men, be smitten by Jehovah, because he must bear the sins of others, which sins were laid on him by Jehovah. Bearing these sins, he makes himself the offering for guilt, which Jehovah accepts. He voluntarily gives himself to death, he is killed and is buried. He rises from death a victorious conqueror, evermore to do the pleasure of Jehovah, to possess his seed, and to intercede for transgressors.
According to Isaiah the grand end and design of the union of God and man in one person is to bear the sins of men, to become the sacrifice for sin, and to work out everlasting salvation. Hear Jehovah's assurance, “I have blotted out as a thick cloud thy transgressions, and as a cloud thy sins. Return unto me, for I have redeemed thee.” And shall we not join in the rapt song of the prophet, “Sing, ye heavens, for Jehovah hath done it. Shout, ye lower parts of the earth, break forth into singing, ye mountains, O forest, and every tree therein, for Jehovah hath redeemed Jacob, and glorified himself in Israel.”
THE NEW TESTAMENT STATEMENT OF THE DOCTRINE. - When we turn to the New Testament, we see all the prophecies of the Old Testament fulfilled in that “Holy Thing” born of the Virgin. He was a babe as other infants. All that language can convey of reality, is told us respecting the human body of the Lord Jesus. It was not a phantasm, a mere appearance without real substance; it was not mere ethereal essence; it was a real human body, like other men, sin excepted. He grew through infancy and childhood to manhood; he suffered hunger and thirst; his body was nourished as other bodies are; he felt weakness and pain; he walked; he slept; he could be seen, felt, and handled. “Forasmuch, then, as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself, likewise, took part of the same.”
If this were all, we could not say that he was a perfect man; for a body without a soul is not a man, it is a corpse. But all that can be predicated of a human soul, as distinguished from the divine mind, is said of Jesus. He grew in knowledge, increased in wisdom; he learned obedience by the things he suffered; he increased in favor with God and man; he knew sorrow as his own; he was tempted in all points like as we are, yet without sin; but God cannot be tempted, nor can a body without a human soul be tempted. The temptation of Satan and all the temptations to which the Saviour was subjected, were addressed to his human soul. It cannot be said of God, nor can it be said of a mere body, that he knows not; nor could it be said of the union of
God with a soulless human body that he was ignorant. Yet Christ declares that he was ignorant of the time when the day of judgment should come; and want of knowledge and wisdom is certainly implied in the statement that Jesus increased in wisdom.
What was it that was so racked and tortured in Gethsemane, that Jesus was in agony and bloody sweat, and thrice laid hold of the very horns of the altar before his Father, and cried, “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless not as I will but as thou wilt?” What was it in Jesus that “was sore amazed and very heavy,” that was in great consternation and anguish? Surely not the Deity, and not the body without the soul, and not the body with Deity for its soul; but that agony and prayer pertained, as they only could pertain, to the human soul of Jesus. A body without a soul cannot sympathize, nor can God, as God, be touched with a feeling of our infirmities; but it was necessary that God the Son should be made like unto his brethren in all things, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high-priest for us. “For in that he hath suffered, being tempted, he is able to succor them that are tempted.”
This man in the perfection of his nature, free from sin, the highest type of moral excellence, deliberately claimed to be God. He claimed unity of essence and power with the Father, and yet distinguished himself from God the Father, who sent him, and from God the Spirit, whom he promised to send. All divine titles and all divine attributes are ascribed to him. “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father.” “All men should honor the Son even as they honor the Father.” “I and my Father are one.” As in Isaiah we saw that he claimed eternal pre-existence, “When time began I am,” so, in the New Testament, he says of himself, “Before Abraham was” (or began to be) “I am.”
And just here, where speculation and philosophy have run wild concerning the union of these two natures in one person, the Scriptures, without attempting to explain the mystery, which no human intellect has ever solved, clearly reveal but one Christ, one person ; and by person is meant, “an intelligent subject, who can say I, who can be addressed as thou, and who can act and be acted upon.” Christ calls himself the Son of God, and by that title asserts an equality of essence and power with God, and was so understood by the Jews. He also calls himself the Son of man, as flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone; but he declares that the Son of God and the Son of man are one and the same person, elsewhere as well as in that wondrous passage where, when adjured by the high-priest to tell whether he was the Christ, the Son of God, Jesus said unto him “Thou hast said” (that is, thou hast said the truth, I am), “nevertheless I say unto you, hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.” In his deepest humiliation he is the Son of God, in his highest exaltation he is the Son of man.
We must keep clearly in mind that the ascription to Christ of both these natures begins with and continues through all his earthly life and into heaven. By cleaving fast to the simple word of God we shall be restrained from those errors of speculation which make Christ only a mode of the Father's manifestation of himself, or which deny his perfect Deity, or which assert that his humanity was swallowed up of Deity, or that Deity became human, or that there was but one nature in Christ, and this, human nature became at his resurrection “truly and forever divine,” which is the plaything of some eminent modern theologians, or many other new-found errors.
THE RELATION OF THIS DIVINE-HUMAN PERSON TO THE ATONEMENT. - By the word “atonement,” which only occurs once in the New Testament, where it is synonymous with reconciliation, we usually understand the result and effect of the work of Christ, but in the Old Testament the words translated by “atonement” express the means and mode of reconciliation. Atonement in the Old Testament is a covering of guilt by a sacrifice, or more fully, it is the offering of a specified, unblemished animal to bear the sins of the sinner, to be slain in his stead, and to be a covering to cover over the sinner, and by reason of this covering God frees him from the penalty of the law broken by him. But the lack and the necessarily typical character of the Levitical sacrifices appear from this, that they merely freed the sinner from bearing the penalty of the law in certain cases; they did not, because they could not, confer any righteousness.
By the atonement of Christ we understand not merely his sufferings and death, but also his obedience to the law in our stead; or, in other words, the satisfaction rendered to the justice of God by Christ in the place of sinners and for them, by which it is made consistent with the justice of God to accept the believing sinner as righteous, as though he had done and suffered all that Christ has done and suffered in his behalf. By this atonement the believing sinner is freed from all obligation to satisfy the demands of the law as the condition of salvation, or to bear its deserved penalty, and is clothed with the righteousness of his substitute. The believing sinner is not only free, but pronounced clean in the sight of God.
FOR THIS WORK THE DIVINE-HUMAN SAVIOUR WAS ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY. - I do not mean that God was driven by any immanent necessity to save fallen men. But having determined to save them, it became absolutely necessary that a divine-human Saviour should offer himself as their substitute.
This necessity is founded on the nature of God. On a subject of such transcendent importance it does not become us to speculate on long-drawn inferences. The Scriptures assert this necessity: “For it became him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things” (that is, God the Father), “in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.” This captain of salvation is the one who has just been described as “God forever and ever,” even Jesus, ‘‘who’’ also “was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death,” “that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.” The original term translated “it became” expresses necessity; here, the highest conceivable necessity, for this way is alone consonant with the perfections or nature of God. Similarly in Isaiah, fifty-third chapter, this same necessity, as being alone consistent with the nature of God, is expressed in those words which sometimes seem a contradiction, “It pleased Jehovah to bruise him,” or, as the New Testament states it, “It pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell; and, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself.” It was consonant with his justice, his love, and his grace.
This necessity is seen from the fact that no other way of making atonement was possible with God. “For if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law.” That is, if by any other way life and righteousness
could have come to fallen man, Christ would not have come and made atonement. It was not possible for God to devise another way. This divine-human Saviour, living and dying for man, was not one out of many expedients ready at God's hand; he is the only way by which God can be just and the justifier of the ungodly.
Again, this necessity of the sacrifice of Christ, God and man, is expressed in the following words: “For every high priest is ordained to offer gifts and sacrifices, wherefore it is of necessity that this man have somewhat also to offer.” That which it was necessary for him to offer was, we are told, “the blood of Christ, who through the Eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God.” If the sacrifice was to be of any value, it was necessary that it be the offering of one person, God and man.
This necessity is taught us by Christ's own words, “ought not Christ to have suffered these things?’’ This “ought not” cannot refer merely to the fulfilment of prophecy by Christ, for prophecy is only Christ's word concerning himself, and tells of a salvation already complete before the mind of God. Therefore it is a matter of small moment to the prophet whether he speaks in the present or the future tense. This “ought not” is the very foundation of all prophecy of salvation, it antedates all revelation, and springs from the nature of God.
If these things are so, then it is deadly error to teach that any man may be saved without Christ, without knowing Christ, without knowing him as God and man. In view of this infinite sacrifice it must be no weak and harmless error to teach that there was such worth in man as rendered him worthy of being saved. If there was any worth in fallen man rendering him worthy of being saved, how much more worth must there be in fallen angels. But Satan and the fallen angels are not saved. No, the converse is the truth, that if it required the life and death of the God-man to save a sinner, it was because there was no worth or worthiness in man before God, and it was of infinite grace and love that God gave His Son to die, as the Scriptures teach.
THE ATONING WORK OF THE GOD-MAN, IF ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY, WAS ALSO ABSOLUTELY PERFECT, BEING GOD'S OWN WORK FOR THE ATTAINMENT OF GOD'S OWN PURPOSE. - By the union of these two natures in one person, whatsoever was done by the one nature could not be separated from the concurrence and efficacy of the other. God cannot suffer, and God cannot die, but Christ, God and man, could, in his human nature, obey the law, and suffer, and die, and this obedience and suffering is invested with all the dignity and validity of the act of God. It was the “Prince of life” (Acts iii. 15) who was killed. It was “the Lord of glory” (1 Corinthians ii. 8) who was crucified. “The church of God” has been “purchased with his own blood” (Acts xx. 28). And, therefore, we are in entire accordance with Scripture when we sing: -
“Well might the sun in darkness hide,
And shut his glories in,
When God the mighty Maker died
For man the creature's sin.”
“Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast
Save in the death of Christ my God;
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to his blood.”
Charnock truly says, “in all his sufferings he retained the relation and reality of the Son of God; the unity of his natures remained firm in all his passions, and, therefore, the efficacy of the Deity mingled itself with every groan in his agony, with every pang and cry upon the cross, as well as with the blood which was shed. And as his blood was the blood of God, so his groans were the groans of God, his pangs were the pangs of God.”
This whole work was purely the work of God. God the Son graciously condescended to take unto himself a human nature that he might become the Saviour. His predetermination of this in eternity, and his deeds and sufferings in time were the acts of God, with which man had no part or lot in concurrence or co-operation. It was God's own sacrifice, in God's own way, for God's own purpose. At every step in its beginning, continuance, and end, it was marked with God's approval and acceptance. There is no flaw in the covenant between the Father and the Son. There is none in the covenanted work of the Son; it is absolutely perfect.
It is on this absolutely perfect, this finished work, this “everlasting covenant ordered in all things and sure,” that the promise and oath of God are founded, “that by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us.” The atonement of the God-man, Christ Jesus, absolutely necessary and absolutely perfect, to the keen eye of the soul in its highest, deepest thought is its only “promise and potency of every form and quality of life.”
Falling low before the throne, where we catch some of the effulgence of the “glory which he had with the Father before the world was,” in the deepest sense of our guilt and sin and need, “let us count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus our Lord,” “that we may win Christ, and be found in him, not having our own righteousness which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith, that we may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death.”
“When wounded sore the stricken soul
Lies bleeding and unbound,
One only hand, a pierced hand,
Can salve the sinner's wound.
“When sorrow swells the laden breast,
And tears of anguish flow,
One only heart, a broken heart,
Can feel the sinner's woe.
“When penitence has wept in vain
Over some foul dark spot,
One only stream, a stream of blood,
Can wash away the blot.
“'Tis Jesus' blood that washes white,
His hand that brings relief,
His heart that's touched with all our joys,
And feeleth for our grief.
“Lift up thy bleeding hand, O Lord;
Unseal the cleansing tide;
We have no shelter from our sin
But in thy wounded side.”
[From Philadelphia Baptist Association Minutes, 1874, pp. 50-61; via U. of Chicago digital documents. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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