By William S. Plumer, 1867
"Come, let us shout joyfully to the Lord, shout
GENERAL VIEWS OF CHRIST'S WORK
It is common to many languages to put a part for the whole. The sacred writings abound in this type of figure of speech. The whole nation of Israel is called Jacob. The law often signifies the whole Mosaic dispensation. The death of Christ, or the cross of Christ, is a term to denote the whole system of gospel truth. The fear of God and the love of God are used to express the whole of religion. So when the apostle says, "We preach Christ crucified," he intends to say that he and his co-workers set forth the whole of the gospel, giving a just prominence to the great fact of the sacrificial death of our Lord.
As preliminary to this discussion it may be observed:
1. Unless man is a sinner, he needs no other good news than that God is just. The whole need not a physician. The innocent require no pardon. The holy need no change of heart. In the righteous there is no need for forgiveness of sin. It is the lost who need a Savior. Whoever denies his guilt rejects Christ. Let the Governor offer pardons where guilt has been proven; let him not insult the virtuous by an offer to remit the penalty for crime of which even the suspicion of guilt is a great wrong.
2. A full and thorough conviction that we are sinners is both right and useful. A vague and general suspicion of guilt will hardly lead anyone to embrace the gospel. Whenever one feels that he is wrongfully accused, and is fully conscious of innocence, he asks no relaxation of legal rigor. All he desires is sheer justice.
3. The gospel is rendered null and void as to any saving efficacy in regard to all men who refuse to say, in the spirit of the publican, "God be merciful to me a sinner." Its morality may secure to them respectability; its civilizing influences may soften the asperities of their character; its enlightening power may rescue them from barbarism, but its saving influences they will never feel while entertaining self-complacent views of themselves. Whoever would be cleansed in the fountain opened for sin and uncleanness, must confess his guilt. Whoever would be made rich, must own his poverty. Whoever would be clothed with the righteousness of Christ, must bewail his own nakedness. To him who sees that floods of tears can never cover the mountains of his sins, it will be good news that, through Christ, God will cast them into the depths of the sea! God gives grace to the humble; but he knows the proud afar off.
4. As many as are under the teachings of God's Spirit will always welcome even a plain and familiar explanation of the plan of mercy revealed in the gospel. Wisdom is justified of her children. All others will wonder and perish!
5. In preaching the gospel, nothing is to be concealed. It is at our peril if we withhold a truth because it is offensive to the carnal mind. We may not even disguise it or obscure it by the arts of rhetoric. Thus Paul says, "We preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling-block, and unto the Greeks foolishness." Nothing could have more offended the prejudices of Jews, or assailed the wisdom of Greeks, than preaching Christ crucified. To call upon them to believe in one that had been crucified on a tree seemed to them monstrous. Yet Paul preached this very doctrine. He knew its power. He says: "Unto them who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ" is "the power of God and the wisdom of God." Nor did he publish this vital truth in words which man's wisdom teaches, but in words which the Holy Spirit teaches. Let us follow his excellent example. Let us not try to render the gospel pleasing to men by denying or disguising its unwelcome truths. If we could persuade all men that Christ was never crucified, the work of salvation would be at an end, the humble would be cast into despair, the ignorant be rendered more brutish, and the world quickly return to idolatry and atheism.
6. While the death of Christ was the crowning event in his humiliation and an essential part of it; it is not to be separated from his incarnation, his perfect obedience, and his previous sufferings. His whole life upon earth, followed by his death on the cross, and that by his exaltation at God's right hand—must be taken together.
7. The salvation of a sinner in no sense depends upon his fitness, but only on the fullness of Christ Jesus. If the gospel makes anything plain, it surely teaches that we are saved by grace through faith, that is in Christ the Lord.
With these explanations, let us notice several methods by which we often point to the effect of the death of Christ in saving lost men. The human mind is weak and full of darkness by reason of sin. It is a mercy, therefore, that in several well-chosen ways God makes this doctrine plain to our understandings.
I. Sometimes we represent Christ as taking our place and so SUBSTITUTION is the name by which we designate the glorious plan of gospel mercy. This mode of expression is appropriate and striking. Among men substitution is common and well understood. One is drafted into the army; his brother or friend, seeing the importance of his presence at home; or a stranger moved by financial reward—becomes his substitute. When once, with his own consent, he is thus enrolled, he is bound to obey all orders as if the lot had originally fallen on himself. In his case, as in any other, desertion is severely punished. Substitution, once admitted, binds in all its rigor. There can be no abatement in favor of him who voluntarily consents to stand in the place of another. When he has done all that the other was bound to do, and not before—is he released.
So Jesus Christ voluntarily became our substitute. He took our place in the eye of the law, and "became obedient unto death." He perfectly fulfilled all his engagements. He never said, "It is finished," until he had showed us on the cross what temper he would have us exercise in the severest trials, and until he had drunk the dregs of "the cup of astonishment" put into his hands by the offended majesty of heaven. He entirely finished the work which God had given him to do. His release from the tomb was God's public declaration that the Substitute was bound to no more obedience or suffering for us. He who takes Christ as his substitute, does therefore publicly approve of this method of salvation. By the act of faith in the Redeemer, he is released from the penalty of damnation, and from the law itself as a covenant of works, by the keeping of which unfallen creatures stand justified before God.
II. Near akin to substitution is SURETYSHIP, in which one person undertakes to make good the engagements or liabilities of another. Christ is expressly called our Surety. In the Lord's prayer, our sins are called debts. They are indeed dreadful debts. We could never pay them. We are said to owe ten thousand talents—a sum equal to twelve tons of gold. Who can meet such liabilities? Besides, we all owed a perfect obedience to the precept of the law, a sinless keeping of every commandment. Not one of Adam's race could meet such demands. Seeing our indebtedness and helplessness and poverty—Jesus mercifully became our Surety. He did not indeed endorse our worthless names, but he gave his own most worthy name to God. He bound himself to pay all our debts, that is, to suffer the penalty due to us for sin, and to obey the precept of the law for righteousness to us. He did it—he did it all.
The law, either as to its curse on the rebellious or as a means of justification before God, claims nothing of believers. Their tears and groans pay no part of their debt incurred by transgression. Their works of love and faith prove their sincerity and adorn their profession, but form no part of their justifying righteousness. So wonderful was this suretyship, and so perfect was the confidence of God in the engagements of the Surety, that "the souls of the elect were saved upon trust for four thousand years. The Father gave credit to Christ and glorified his saints on the footing of a sacrifice not then offered up, and of a righteousness not then wrought. Christ also, in the days of his flesh, went on credit with his Father every time previous to his death he said to a sinner, 'Your sins are forgiven you.'" [Ryland.] Thus, though Jesus was not actually crucified until the days of Pontius Pilate, he was in the esteem of God "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world." So that "if you have been looking at works, duties, and qualifications, instead of looking at Christ, it will cost you dear. No wonder you go to complaining. Graces are no more than evidences: the merits of Christ alone, without your graces, must be the foundation for your hope to rest upon." [Wilcox.] Blessed be God, "Christ is not more rich himself than he is liberal to contribute of his treasures. He makes his people sharers to the uttermost of all that he has." [Crisp.]
III. Sometimes we speak of Christ as meeting the demands of God's law against us, and then we call his undertaking a SATISFACTION, a satisfaction to the law of God, a satisfaction to divine justice. This mode of speaking goes on the supposition that God's law is holy, just, and good; that its demands, both in precept and penalty, ought to be met; and that God's justice is an amiable attribute, calling for no more than is right. The word satisfaction is often used in a general sense, not different from atonement, compensation, amends. But the primary meaning of satisfaction is, doing enough. To satisfy is to do all that is properly demanded. The judgment of all right-minded men the world over is, that God's precepts concerning all things are right, and that his judgments are equity and truth. To satisfy God's law is, to meet its demands in all respects. This Jesus Christ did for us. He said: "I delight to do your will, O my God; yes, your law is within my heart," Psalm 40:8; "My ears have you opened," Psalm 40:6; that is, you have made me your servant.
As God's law is a transcript of his character, in full accordance with his justice and holiness, to do and suffer all the law demands is of course to satisfy justice—to do and suffer what justice requires. Christ's satisfaction goes upon this supposition, that mere absolute remission of undeniable guilt cannot take place without loosening the bands of good government. Guilt cannot be removed without what some theologians call "compensation"—without what most call satisfaction. If laws had no penalties, they would be mere advice. If their just penalties were not enforced, they would be idle appendages to the best laws, and so government would be at an end. But God's government is perfect; he never demands more than is right; he never unjustly condemns; he cannot pardon capriciously; he must show mercy, if at all, in some way consistent with the demands of law, justice, and good government. Hence the necessity for satisfaction.
The satisfaction which Christ rendered is taken sometimes in an extended sense. It then includes all he did and suffered for us. Sometimes it is used in a more limited sense, and then it denotes his meeting all the demands of the law against us as sinners by enduring the penalty in our stead. Those who thus use the term speak both of the satisfaction and merit of Christ. By the latter they signify his obedience to the precepts of the law; by the former, his amazing sufferings, by which we are set free from the curse of the law. His satisfaction delivers us from death; his merit procures for us the inheritance of sons. By the one the chains of condemnation are taken off; by the other, the best robe is put upon us. One brings us out of Egypt; the other brings us into Canaan. This difference in terms, however, makes no difference in doctrine. Blessed is he who has accepted this full and glorious satisfaction made by God's dear Son. On him the second death shall have no power. God has declared the law met and justice satisfied by Jesus Christ. Is not that enough? Jesus gave himself for us that, "the justice of God being satisfied and the law fulfilled, sinners might be freed from the wrath to come."
How necessary this undertaking of Christ was, is well stated by Owen: "To pardon sin without satisfaction in him who is absolutely holy, righteous, true, and faithful, the absolute, necessary, supreme Governor of all sinners, the Author of the law, and sanction of it, wherein punishment is threatened and declared, is to deny himself, and to do what one infinitely perfect cannot do." Another writer says: "The atonement may be defined as that satisfaction for sin which was rendered to God as the moral governor of the world, by the perfect obedience unto death of our Lord Jesus Christ—a satisfaction which has removed every obstacle, resulting from the divine perfections and government, to the bestowment of mercy upon the guilty." [George Payne.]
It is an objection of no force that the word satisfaction is never used in the Scriptures in regard to the work of Christ. We are not contending for words. The doctrine is taught, and that is enough for us. It is, however, a good word, and is used in Scripture on a like subject: "You shall take no satisfaction for the life of a murderer." Num. 35:31.
IV. Sometimes we represent the work of Christ for us by speaking of him as a SACRIFICE. It is expressly said in Scripture that Christ "has given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savor;" "he has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself;" "he offered up himself." Eph. 5:2 Heb. 7:27; 9:26. He "bore our sins in his own body on the tree." 1 Pet.2:24. His soul was made an offering for sin. Isaiah 53:10. Although the word sacrifice is sometimes used to denote every kind of offering, yet, a sacrifice, strictly speaking, differs from a mere oblation in this, that in a sacrifice there is a real destruction or change of the thing offered; while an oblation is a simple gift without any such change. Thus tithes, first-fruits, and every kind of property devoted to religious uses were oblations.
But sacrifices, in strictness of speech, were either wholly or in part consumed by fire. They were of three kinds: first, eucharistical, to express gratitude for mercies received; secondly, petitions, to obtain some favor; or, thirdly, expiatory, to atone for some sin. This last was specially and peculiarly the sacrifice of Christ. "He was made sin [a sin-offering] for us." He died as a victim in our room and place. He put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. He offered one sacrifice for sins. The Jew, who had incurred ceremonial guilt, brought his lamb and confessed his sins over it; and it became his victim, and died for him, and for him alone. But when John the Baptist saw Christ he said, "Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin [not of one man, or of one nation, but] of the world." John 1:29. So that Paul well argues that there is no need of daily, yearly, or any more sacrifices, for by once offering himself to God, Christ has forever perfected those who believe, has made an end of transgression, has put away sin, and become the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.
Thus is Christ the propitiation for our sins. That is, his sacrifice averts from us the wrath of God, and renders God propitious to us. The word propitiation is borrowed from the propitiatory, or mercy-seat, which covered the tables of the law. So the propitiation of Christ covers up the handwriting that was against us, and opens the way for God's mercy to flow forth to us lost men. It should be for our perpetual joy that "the redeeming power of the blood of Christ is greater than the condemning power of sin." [Mather.] The vilest sinners the world has ever seen, the murderers of Christ and the murderers of his saints, when they have been able to see the completeness of this one offering, have said, "It is enough: my conscience demands no more sacrifice: God requires no further offering."
V. Sometimes Christ's work for us is called his OBEDIENCE—his obedience unto death. This mode of speaking is found in Scripture, and is often adopted by good writers. Paul says that "by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous;" that "though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered;" and that he "became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross." Romans 5:19; Heb. 5:8; Phil. 2:8. Christ's obedience was both active and passive. He kept the precept and he bore the penalty of the law. He obeyed in suffering. He suffered in obeying. In Romans 5:19 obedience in Christ is put in contrast with disobedience in Adam. This is active obedience. In Philippians 2:8 we read of obedience unto death. This is passive obedience. Though we thus distinguish, we never separate these two kinds of obedience. They are inseparable. Had our Lord lived a blameless life, the example would have been good for us, and his life pleasing to God; but how could his life have saved us from wrath? On the other hand, if our Lord had not been holy, his death could in no way have availed for us. The whole obedience of Christ has these excellent qualities. It was obedience unto God. So he said, "I have finished the work which you gave me to do." "The cup which my Father has given me, shall I not drink it?" It was perfect. There was no defect in it. He did all that God required. He suffered all that God inflicted. His obedience was unfailing. He shrank from nothing. He came short in nothing. He was full of zeal for the honor of God. In his greatest darkness he prayed, "Father, glorify your name." He was full of compassion to men. Having loved his own, he loved them to the end. It was because he loved us, that he gave himself for us. Gal. 2:20.
1. There is a rich and harmonious variety of modes of expressing and explaining the great doctrine of salvation by Christ.Every suitable method of teaching this truth is either used or suggested by the sacred writers. While we find this pleasing variety, there is no diversity in the scope of their teachings. They wonderfully agree.
2. It is of paramount importance that we believe and maintain the true doctrine respecting Christ's undertaking for us.At no time and at no hazard let us yield to the clamors or insidiousness of error. In the salvation of a sinner, all depends on the work and sufferings of the Savior. Here alone can the guilty have peace with God, or the despairing have hope beyond the grave.
3. There is no danger in making Christ all and in all."It is Christ who brings us everything we get. . . . If you would have any good, you must get it by Christ." [Crisp.] "If you ever saw Christ, you saw him as a rock, higher than self-righteousness, Satan, and sin. And this rock follows you and there will be a continual dropping of honey and grace out of this rock to satisfy you." [Wilcox.] Make much, O make much of Christ. "Whoever has Christ cannot be poor; and whoever lacks him cannot be rich." [Dyer.]
4. The salvation of Christ is no more rich than it is free.It gives milk and wine in abundance. And it gives without money and without price. If you would be saved, you must simply believe, simply accept the grace that is offered. An experienced Christian said: "I never had a more lively sense of my acceptance with God through Christ than when I was sensible of the greatest recumbency on him: when I laid most stress upon him, I always found most strength in him." [Thomas Coles.]
5. As our persons, so also our services have acceptance through Christ.The love of God refuses nothing which the obedient love of his people offers through Christ Jesus, Imperfect indeed are all our doings. But perfect is the righteousness of Christ—through whom believing sinners and works of faith are graciously owned and accepted.