The Spiritual and Experimental Character of the Atonement: Inexplicable to the Unregenerate Mind


"The natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. " 1 Cor. ii. 14.

By no stronger argument does the truth of God establish the Divinity of its origin, than that to all, except the regenerate, it is a incomprehensible mystery. Not only the great principles of truth are inexplicable, but the hidden and transforming operation of that truth upon the mind- the alarm, the contrition, the joy, the hope, the varied and often conflicting emotions which are its proper results, are altogether unintelligible. The life of God in the soul, the mode of its communication, the peculiarity of its actings, and the source of its nourishment, are incomprehensible. To such an unregenerate individual, spiritual truth has no attraction. There is neither admiration of its external form, taste for its intrinsic excellence, sympathy with its holy revelations, nor love for its adorable Author. Is this a hard saying? We fear not to assert, that to a mind on whom the renewing influence of the Holy Spirit has never passed, the great mystery of godliness is unintelligible. "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." If we are to understand our Lord, whose words we quote, to mean by "the kingdom of God," (as the same phraseology in parallel passages would seem to decide,) not strictly the kingdom of glory and purity in which Jehovah reigns with an immediate and majestic presence, but distinctly and emphatically that spiritual empire which Christ came to establish among men, then it is as true as the testimony of Jesus can make it, that until a man is regenerated, or born from above, until he is the subject of a new spiritual creation, the truth of God he cannot see. It requires no labored process of reasoning to establish the proposition, so simple and self-evident is it- things that are spiritual can only be discerned by a mind that is spiritual. For instance, there is a beautiful and perfect symmetry in the vast structure of God's truth. Each doctrine and precept has its proper and appropriate place. Now, how is this symmetry to be seen?- how is this harmonious relation and nice adjustment of each part to the whole to be ascertained by a mind not only morally blind to the truth, but all whose faculties are warring against it? As well may you pour tones of delicious music on the ears of the deaf, or floods of brilliant light on the eye-ball of the blind, and expect to awaken corresponding sympathy in the soul, as that spiritual truth, when brought in contact with a "carnal mind," will produce conviction in favor either of its excellence or its beauty. Of the law of God, the great assertor and defender of the holiness of God, it is totally ignorant; what then does it know of sin? Of sin- the transgression of that law, its great aggravation, its moral turpitude, it is as equally insensible; what then does it know of sin's wondrous Sacrifice? And, being ignorant of Christ, what does it know of God? We repeat the observation then, in order to impress it upon every mind, that the supreme excellence, and perfect harmony which pervade the entire revelation of God, can only be discerned by a spiritual eye. And all this process, be it known- this heart to love the truth, this mind to investigate its nature, this eye to trace its proportions and its beauties, is the production of God himself.

Expanding this thought yet further, we would dare assert, painful as it may be to the minds of many whose eye may trace this page, that he alone is a truly confirmed believer in a Divine revelation, who is a true experimental believer in the Atonement of Christ. We are prepared to admit that, there are individuals who have closely investigated and accurately weighed the external and historical evidences in corroboration of the truth of Christianity, and who, upon the conviction produced by those evidences, have received it as a system from God. And yet there is a species of evidence, the nature of which they may have never examined, and the force of which they may have never felt. The evidence to which we allude, is the evidence of experience, for in the striking language of God's own truth, "he that believes has the witness in himself." The Spirit of God breaking, humbling, healing the heart; taking his own truth and transcribing it upon the soul; witnessing, sealing, sanctifying; opening the eye of the soul to the holiness of God's law, to its own moral guilt, poverty, helplessness, and deep need of Christ's blood and righteousness, thus leading it to rest on him as on an all-sufficient Savior; thus producing "righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit;"- this is the truth experienced- this is the religion of the heart; and all other religion, beautiful as may be its theory, and orthodox as may be its creed, is nothing worth. Without this experience there is no true belief in God's Word. The revelation of God asks not for a faith that will merely endorse its Divine credentials; it asks not merely that scepticism will lay aside its doubts, and receive it as a Divine verity; it asks, yes, it demands, more than this, it demands a faith that will fully, implicitly, practically receive the momentous and awful facts it announces; a faith that brings them home with a realizing power to the soul, and identifies it with them; a faith that believes there is a hell, and seeks to escape it- a faith that believes there is a heaven, and strives to enter it- a faith that credits the doctrine of man's ruin by nature, and that welcomes the doctrine of man's recovery by grace: in a word, a faith that rejects all human dependence, and accepts as its only ground of refuge, "the righteousness of Christ, which is unto all, and upon all those who believe." O this is the true faith of the gospel! Have you it, reader?

Let us for a moment glance at the different reception of God's truth by a renewed mind. To such an individual there is glory, harmony, and excellence in spiritual truth. Every part to him is precious; no portion undervalued. In whatever form it presents itself, whether doctrinal or preceptive- with whatever tone it speaks, whether it rebukes or comforts, admonishes or cheers, he welcomes it as God's own eternal truth, more precious to him than gold, yes, than much fine gold. In his eye, it is a perfect system; dismember it of any one part, and you mar its beauty. It is a sovereign panacea; take out of it any single ingredient, and you impair its efficacy. He must have it with no doctrine dissevered, with no precept diluted, with no institution perverted. He can consent to no compromise: he has bought the truth, and the truth he cannot sell. Not only does he feel bound to watch it with a jealous and vigilant eye, because it is God's own truth, but he loves it for its perfect adaptation to his own case. It has disclosed to him his sinfulness, and has revealed to him a "fountain open for sin." It has led him in his ruin, helplessness, poverty, and condemnation to the cross, and there introduced him to a Savior all-sufficient and willing to repair that ruin, assist that helplessness, enrich that poverty, and remove that condemnation. Is it any marvel that, to such an individual, God's revealed truth should be precious? that he should guard it vigilantly, and love it ardently?

This leads us to return to the close and important, yet much forgotten connection, which exists between a clear, spiritual perception of God's truth, and a holy, humble, and close walk with God. The two can never be separated. A distant and careless walk not only veils the mind to the glory of the truth, but hardens the heart to the power of the truth. The world in the heart, guilt upon the conscience, and unmortified sin in the life, have a fearful and certain tendency to petrify the spiritual sensibilities, and render powerless the sword of the Spirit. Let not such a professor of Christ wonder that appeals the most thrilling, truths the most solemn, and motives the most persuasive, all, all are disarmed of their force in his case. Let him not be amazed that, with an enlightened judgment, and a scriptural creed, and a spotless orthodoxy, he knows nothing of the holy spiritual actings of the life of God in the soul, and that he does but hang a lifeless, sapless, withered branch upon the Vine, ready to be removed at the Husbandman's bidding. Let him not be astonished that there is no close and fervent fellowship with the Father and his dear Son Christ Jesus- that his prayers are cold and formal, his conversation vapid and unedifying, the habitual frame of his mind earthly and sensual, and that all taste and desire for the "communion of saints," and for a spiritual searching ministry, should have become extinct in his soul; this is no marvel. The great wonder would be if it were otherwise: that if, while living in a state of distance from God, the ordinances neglected, and sin unmortified, the Father and the Son should yet draw near and manifest themselves, and so make known that secret which peculiarly belongs to those that fear him. Oh how awful is the state of such a professor! Does the eye of such an one scan this page? Let him be affectionately and earnestly entreated to abandon as worthless his notional, lifeless religion; humble himself before the Lord God; implore his forgiveness, and recover if he has lost, or seek if he never possessed, a sense of acceptance in Christ and adoption into God's family. O might we rouse you to the importance of this! What consolation and support will be derived from a formal profession in the hour of death? What will it avail after death, when comes the judgment? "I never knew you," will be the withering repulse of the Savior. Be assured, beloved reader, it is an awful event to die. To pass onward and upward to the fearful scrutiny, bearing in the hand the empty lamp, the outward garb- the name, the vesture, all, except the reality of a justified soul. To have outwardly professed Christ, what is easier? To speak respectfully him; to bow the head at the mention of his name; to have assented to his doctrines, and ably and successfully defended his institutions, nothing less difficult. It costs a man nothing to do all this. There is no cross in it; and what is a man's religion if he extract from it the cross? There is no love to Christ influencing, impelling the soul; and what value are all inferior motives? There is no singleness of eye to God's glory; and what if self only be the idol which the heart sets up, and before which it burns its daily incense? But O, to have Christ in the heart!- this, this is the truth of God experienced. Call you it enthusiasm? Blessed enthusiasm! we exult in it, we glory in it. Let the formalist, let the man of notional religion, let the mere professor call it what he may, deride it as he will; we admire the grace, and adore the love, and extol the power, which has formed "Christ within us the hope of glory." Reader, be satisfied, take nothing for granted short of this.

In proportion then to a believer's simple, filial, and close walk with God, will be his deep and spiritual discoveries of truth. "If any man will do His will," says Christ, "he shall know of the doctrine whether it be of God." The more steadily he walks in God's light, the clearer will he see the light. The nearer he lives to the Sun of Righteousness, the more entirely will he be flooded with its glory, and the more vividly will he reflect its brightness. The more simply and entirely the believing soul lives on Christ, the more enlarged, experimental, and practical will be his ideas of all truth. The central fact of the Bible is Christ crucified. From this, as their center, all the lines of truth diverge, and to this, as by a common attraction, they all again return. To know Christ then- to know him as dwelling in the heart by his own Spirit is to have traversed the great circle of spiritual truth. What is his own testimony? "He that has seen me, has seen the Father." 'I am the Father's great revelation. I have come to make Him known. To unveil His attributes, illustrate His law, to pour forth the ocean fulness of His love, and to erect one common platform on which may meet in holy fellowship, God and the sinner- the two extremes of being– learn of me, I am the way, the truth, and the life.'

Not only will a spiritual perception of the beauty and fitness of the truth be the result of a close and filial communion with God, but the assurance that God's Word is truth and not fiction, will increase. And to be thoroughly established in this, is no small attainment. To know that God's Word is true; to cherish no doubt or hesitancy; to give Him full credit for all that he has said- to repose by simple faith upon the promise, and on the faithfulness of Him that has promised, is a blessing earnestly to be sought, and when found, diligently to be kept. A holy walk then will tend much to confirm the soul in the belief of the truth.

To quote again the striking words of the Apostle, "he that believes on the Son of God, has the witness in himself." He has the inward witness to the truth. He needs no outward demonstration. He is in possession of a source of evidence to the truth of God's Word which scepticism cannot shake, because it cannot reach it. He may not be able to define the precise nature of his evidence- his reply to the unbelieving objector is, "it must be felt to be known, it must be experienced to be understood. This evidence is not the result of 'a labored process of thought.' I arrived not at it by mathematical reasoning. I was convinced by the Eternal Spirit of my sin, fled to Christ, ventured my all upon him, and now I know of a surety that God's blessed Word is truth." And not more completely was his sophistry confuted, who attempted to disprove the doctrine of motion by his opponent immediately rising and walking; than a humble, spiritual, though unlettered believer, may thus put to silence the foolishness and ignorance of men. Their sophistry he may not be able to detect, their assertions he may not be able to disprove, yet by a walk holy and close with God, he may demonstrate to the unbelieving universe that Jehovah's Word is true. There is much wisdom in the observation of Coleridge- "Evidence of Christianity! I am weary of the word! Make a man feel the need of it; rouse him to the self-knowledge of his need of it, and you may safely trust it to its own evidence."

The truth, dear reader, you are now invited to consider, is, of all truth, the most spiritual and important. It is the central fact of the gospel- its sun; its glory; yes, its very substance; for, take from it the Atonement, and what of the gospel remains? It lies at the very basis of a believing sinner's hope. Remove this, and all is gone! Seal up the fountain of Christ's precious blood, and you seal up the soul to blackness, darkness, and despair! And yet, in this all-important light, how few view it, even of the many who profess a sacred regard for God's Word! The truth of revelation is admitted, and even the necessity of the Atonement, as an essential pillar of immortal hope, is conceded, and still it is but an occasional and transient thought that is conferred upon a subject of the deepest moment and transcendent interest. O that men should treat this subject so?- that Jehovah should tabernacle in flesh, and in his humiliation pour out his precious blood as an offering for sin, and that yet we should pass it by with indifference and neglect! What language is sufficient to describe the affecting spectacle?