The atonement of our Lord Jesus Christ is cosmic in its nature, for it was designed as the vindication of God and the realization of His grand design in creation, which is to reveal Himself and to establish that moral creation of which the first creation was only a means to the end.
“The Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God” (1 Corinthians 2:10). This holy and profound scrutiny in the very heart of the Godhead is conveyed to the Church in terms of the ministry of the Word so that the fountain of praise and prayer and worship might rise and flow and the soul be prepared for its full destiny in its eternal communion with God the Father, with Christ, and with the Holy Spirit.
It is in these terms that the Apostle Paul, favored with a more profound view of Christ’s atoning work than any other of the apostles, prays for the Church that “the God of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him (that is, of the Father)”
“Knowing God” is an ever-expanding discovery of the mystery of His being as revealed in God’s work of atonement and in all the consequences which flow from that atonement. Paul makes this plain in that enlargement of his prayer expressed in one of the most profound and extraordinary single sentences found in human speech:
Wherefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love to all the saints, cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers; That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him; The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, Which is his body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all. (Ephesians 1:15-23)
In this most comprehensive of statements Paul makes all consequences in heaven and earth to flow from the atonement. Herein is the death of Christ, His rising from the dead, His glorification at the right hand of the Father and His subsequent procession to the full realization of His destiny as head over all things. This is the theme. This headship of Christ over all is the reward of His meritorious obedience to the Father’s will. The crown is given to Him as He is God and man, incarnate deity, Immanuel, whose mystical body is the Church which is “the fullness of Him that filleth all in all.”
We do not find ourselves competent to speak adequately on this last phrase which admittedly has given much embarrassment to the commentators. Some see it as a statement that Christ is the “fullness” or “completeness” of God. Others see it as a description of the church, though there is confusion as to how the church can properly be regarded as “the fullness of God.” The truth appears to lie in the thought that the fullness of God is found in the mystical body of Christ--the church--in the sense that all that the Father is, is possessed in the Son and that the church, which has no existence except as she is His body mystically considered, is by communion with Him made one with God and enjoys through Christ the fullness of the divine nature.
It is necessary therefore to see the church, not as something apart from Christ, but as the inseparable fullness of His life, who in turn is the fullness of the Godhead. This is the atonement. Tyndale’s grand word at-one-ment, coined for this very purpose, was designed by that most gracious and scholarly martyr for Christ to convey the true meaning of the Greek word otherwise translated “reconciliation.”
It is plain, therefore, that the reconciliation between God and man in Christ is the atonement and the atonement is the most perfect and complete union and communion of the soul with God in Christ, so that there is an indivisible oneness, and God fully realizes Himself bodily and visibly in that perfect union of God and man which is the end of all creation.
The forgiveness of sin is the first benefit of this divine mystery in the experience of sinful man. Sin lies at the root of the problem of creation, and it is inevitable that the settlement of this question is required as the very first work in the recovery of the soul. Hence we have Christ’s own words in Luke 24:46-47, when He spoke to His disciples after His resurrection and said, “Thus it is written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”
It is a mistake too often made that this act of forgiveness is the whole objective of the atonement. This limited conception of the Great act of reconciliation lies at the root of much that is ineffectual in present-day evangelism. The atonement is more than this. The death of Christ is the divine means of establishing the holy purposes of God in totality throughout all creation.
In the attempt to make the doctrine of the atonement more explicit, the concept of a limited atonement was developed in Post-Reformation times; and about this, much controversy has raged. It is not always appreciated that the conflicting parties, in one degree or another, usually recognize some limitation of the atonement. A limited atonement we must have, whether in its nature or in its application, unless the false teaching of universalism, which claims the reconciliation of all creatures, men and devils, is accepted. This, of course, is a concept which we heartily repudiate.
All are not delivered from guilt. The fallen hosts of heaven will not find salvation, nor will an uncountable number of mankind. The dreadful judgments of the flood, of Sodom, Egypt, the Canaanites, and the destruction of Jerusalem are foreshadowings of the fate of the finally impenitent. There is no relaxation of the divine righteousness in history, and there can be none in eternity.
The limitation of the atonement to the elect does not seem to have been considered by the Reformers themselves. This does not in itself invalidate the teaching, but it certainly should impose caution against rash generalization. Many would consider the term “particular redemption” more exact than limited atonement. It is, however, no object of ours at present to discuss the merits of that controversy but rather to indicate that the redemption of a particular number of mankind does not exhaust the meaning of the atonement--it is only the starting point.
There is a sense in which the atonement cannot be limited: that it is cosmic in its significance--that is, it has to do with all creation, animate and inanimate, visible and invisible, in time and in eternity. It includes a redemption which is particular in that it procures infallibly the eternal salvation of a particular number of mankind known to God from the beginning and specified in the Savior’s words at the institution of the Last Supper: “This is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matthew 26:28), and again “He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities” (Isaiah 53:11). Yet again Christ says in his prayer as He left the upper room, “As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hest given him” (John 17:2).
But that the purpose of the atonement ranges far beyond the boundaries of individual a redemption is evident from the words of Paul that all creation groans and travails as it awaits the manifestation of the sons of God (Romans 8:19-22).
Not only the remission of sins is procured by the atonement, but the redemption of the body (Romans 8:23). This will be at the general resurrection at the last day, when that which has been committed to the grave in weakness and corruptibility shall be raised in glory and power after the pattern of Christ’s resurrection. The “redemption of the body” into “the glorious liberty of the sons of God” is Paul’s majestic way of describing the exaltation of the bodies of the redeemed, as well as their souls, to an eternal state of glorious life at the return of Christ. The believer enjoys only “the first fruits of the spirit” in his present salvation and even after death, though resting in perfect bliss in the bosom of Christ, does not realize the full deliverance of Christ’s atonement: that full deliverance is reserved for one tremendous moment when all departed saints, and saints who are alive and remain on the earth to the coming of Christ, are together and simultaneously exalted in immortality in the very likeness of Christ (1 Thessalonians 4:15-18). It cannot be sufficiently emphasized, in view of the lack of clear teaching on this point, that the bodies as well as the souls of the redeemed are involved in Christ’s atoning work, as His own most glorious resurrection from the dead testifies. Only in that moment of general resurrection will “the saying that is written” be brought to pass: “Death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Corinthians 15:54).
THE PRAYER OF EPHESIANS ONE
The prayer of Ephesians 1:17-20, to which we make reference, specifies three divisions of knowledge into which the Holy Spirit leads the Church. The first is to know “the hope of our divine calling”; the second, “the riches of the glory of the Lord’s inheritance in the saints”; and the third, “the exceeding greatness of His power toward the church.”
The ministry of the Word, therefore, is designed to fill the church with the knowledge of the divine mystery of grace and calling and destiny. The atonement must be understood in these terms as well as in the overall gift of the remission of sins. Ranging as high as the throne of God and as far as eternity, the atonement regulates all things in heaven and in earth. The measurement of the power of God exerted in the redemption of His people is the raising of Christ from the dead: “according to the working of his mighty power, Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead...” (Ephesians 1:19-20).
THE IMMENSE FORCES LOOSED BY THE ATONEMENT
This comprehensive statement begins to show what immensity of forces have been loosed by the death of Christ and His rising again. The verdict of sin has been reversed. The chariot of death no longer thunders at will along its terrific course. “Christ has died: Christ has risen! Christ is exalted! All is put under His feet!” This introduced a new world, a new creation from which death is abolished and where evil will never again rise to trouble the serene face of creation. The saints of God stand upon their “sea of glass mingled with fire,” having gotten the victory over the hellish beast, his image, mark, and number, striking their harps and singing the sung of Moses and the Lamb (Revelation 15). That song is the song of redemption, first sung by Moses and the Israelites in the day when all their enemies lay dead on the shore of the Red Sea, and, secondly, in its full development in Christ sung by the innumerable multitude of the Sons of God, who in the ineffable calm of eternity look back upon the conquest wrought by Christ and endorse all the ways of God as holy and true.
The ability of the redeemed in heaven thus to assess the work of God and see in His judgments the vindication of His righteousness provides a valuable key to the understanding of the atonement. The primal object of the atonement is the vindication of the name of God in the overcoming of evil and the establishment of creation as a new and divine thing in which is fully realized the pure and holy love of God.
If the kingdom of God is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost, then these terms represent the state of the new creation which rose in Christ from the tomb. Likewise these three things--righteousness, peace, and joy--are the effects of perfect love and therefore fully display divine love in its eternal activity. The redeemed must learn to say, “I am forgiven, justified, ransomed, and saved, not as an end in myself, but as a means to the glory of God.” The weak theology of today, with its absorption in activism, has lost touch with the doctrine of God, and hence with the true doctrine of the atonement. Worship, reverence, praise, humility have in consequence suffered a tragic decline. The riotous nature of some forms of evangelicalism today is the inevitable outcome of the switch of emphasis from God to man. Those who speak most of the “gifts of the spirit” are most distinguished of all for ignorance of the divine word and incompetence in expounding it.
Even the milder forms of devotional enthusiasm specializing in degrees of sinlessness, perfection, victory, unknown to the past ages of Christians, show the same symptoms of the displacement of the divine by the human. Though much more subtle than the behavior patterns of “Pentecostalism,” this delusive pietism which destroys the sovereignty of God and makes the Almighty the begging slave of the human will (e.g., “God will do it if you let him.” “Christ would save if you were more faithful in prayer and consecration.” “He cannot show His power unless you utterly and entirely surrender yourselves to Him.” “Revival will come as soon as you are ready for it; the delay is with you, not with the Holy Spirit.”)--this delusion has fairly displaced the doctrine of God at a time in history when its assertion was never more necessary in the world and in the church.
When these human-centered preoccupations take over, all doctrine becomes irrelevant and preaching is concentrated upon the one end--an appeal to the hearers to consecrate themselves to God so that He may have channels through which to pour His grace upon mankind. The total failure of this evangelical philosophy is shown in the steady evangelical decline throughout the 20th century and the pathetic state of the pulpit everywhere. The reproduction of Mr. Spurgeon’s scintillating sermons or of the ponderous and prolix preaching of the Puritan age has not produced any substantial results amongst the “reformed,” while the flood of revival literature and propaganda of recent years has just kept pace with the disastrous decline of sound teaching on the one hand and, on the other, the rise of the most reprehensible and God-dishonoring enthusiasms, such as “hippy” Christianity with its ragged battalions of deceived and religiously inebriated youth.
Clutching at such straws as these only sets back the case of true “reform,” which lies in the return to the doctrine of the triune God.
The first symptoms of such a return will be a deepening earnestness in the soul’s search after God and a reviving spirit of worship, praise, and adoration in the church. There is very little in modern preaching to inspire the humble and worthy praise of God in Christ. Pentecostalism destroys it. Evangelical devotionalism has little use for it. Only those overshadowed by the concept of the divine holiness and power ever aspire after it. Paul enjoins it in the words, “Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: For our God is a consuming fire”. (Hebrews 12:28-29)
The doctrine of God is wrapt up in the doctrine of the atonement. It is the atonement that fully reveals God in three Persons and expounds the full doctrine of His triune being. It unfolds the purpose and meaning of creation and leads directly to the goal of all theology--GOD IS LOVE.
Any attempt on the one side to limit the atonement either in its ability or intention to redeem fallen man, or on the other side to suspend its efficacy upon human response and human effort, must always be regulated by the overriding consideration that the atonement is the answer to creation’s problem and therefore is the triumphant means of settling forever the question of what creation is for. The effects of the atonement extend over all created being and regulate the eternal destiny of every individual soul in heaven, earth, and under the earth, be he man, angel or devil.
The appalling fact of sin, which first appeared in heaven, disrupted all creation. The angelic multitudes whom the grace of God confirmed and established in their original perfection must have viewed with horror and dismay the fall of their companions in so vast a number--perhaps one third of the population of heaven. The realization that it was possible for the angels to revolt against the righteousness of God and open within themselves an abyss of shame, hideous in its lying attempts to impugn the goodness and holiness of God, required an assurance to be given that the integrity of the elect angels would be established by some act of God which would confirm and establish them in their moral rectitude. Such an act is the atonement. The atonement was not for angels as such, “for verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham” (Hebrews 2:16). Nevertheless as the salvation of “the seed of Abraham” was bound up with the destiny of angels (“Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?”-- (Hebrews 1:14), the atonement for the sin of the human race was in itself the guarantee of the restitution of creation and therefore the confirming factor in the destiny of unfallen angels. “Which things angels desire to look into” (1 Peter 1:12).
The involvement of angels in the sphere of man’s redemption is clear from the numerous instances of their presence in every crisis of man’s spiritual history. So we have the living cherubim who guarded the way to the tree of life when men was banished from the presence of God (Genesis 3:24); the angelic form which was borrowed by the Second Person of the Holy Trinity when He intervened in Old Testament times as the great Archangel of the heavenly host, as the Word of God, and the Shepherd of Israel, who constantly broke into the history of His chosen people; the angelic companions of Christ when He visited Abraham prior to the destruction of Sodom (Genesis 18) and who later appeared alone in the streets of Sodom for the deliverance of Lot and the giving of effect to the divine decree in the overthrow of the cities of the plain (Genesis 32); the entire angelic host that came down at Sinai when the law was given to Moses (Psalm 68:17); the angels which surrounded the prophet Elisha to protect him from the Syrian host (2 Kings 6:17); the angel of God who smote in one night 185,000 men of the heathen who besieged Jerusalem in Hezekiah’s day (2 Kings 19:35).
Angel agency is prominent throughout Daniel’s prophecy, which prepared the way for the coming of the Redeemer. Angels announced the birth of the forerunner, John the Baptist, and then to Mary and Joseph, the birth of Christ (Luke 1; 2). Angels ministered to the Savior in the garden during His mortal agony, announced His resurrection to those who came to the tomb, released Peter from prison, stood by the Apostle Paul, and are universally involved in the history of the church, as portrayed in the Book of Revelation. They are assembled at the final Judgment scene (Jude 14-15). They will be the ministers of justice who sort the wheat from the chaff end the good from the bad. They likewise rejoice over the repentance of every individual sinner who comes to Christ.
Finally, Paul tells us that in redemption we are come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels (Hebrews 12:22).
Angels are universally concerned in the history of man and particularly in the history of the redeemed, in the defence and service of the elect. Their fate is involved and wrapt up in the redemption of man, and their highest interest lies therefore in the atonement.
DR. EADIE’S MAGNIFICENT PASSAGE
This interest of angels in the atonement is most worthily and eloquently summed up by Dr. Eadie in his invaluable commentary on the Epistle to the Colossians (1856):
“There needed no atonement for innocent creatures but they must have felt the disruption of sin, and seen the terrible anger of God against it. May they not have trembled at the bare idea of apostasy, and may not the very suspicion of it have made them stand before God with more of awe than love? When the angels beheld their fellows’ sin so grievously, when they mourned over the tarnished brightness of their lost and exiled natures, might not the memory of the melancholy spectacle fill them with terror, and as they felt themselves placed in a jeopardous crisis, might they not shrink as they gazed upon the unsullied justice and inexorable vengeance of Jehovah-king? Might not holiness, unrelieved by an act of grace, be ever impressing the conviction that “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God”? For sin was possible to them, and what had happened might again take place, while the penalty of sin was as swift in its descent as it was unspeakable in its burden, and irremediable in its effects. The flashing majesty of the throne might still the pulse of the universe, or cause it to throb in subdued and solemn alarm. The radiance of grace had not been seen to play upon the scepter of righteousness. Acquiescence in the Divine rectitude might not conquer trepidation, and the love which encircled them might not cast out all fear of lapse and punishment. But when they found out the ineffable stores of the Divine benignity towards man--in the mission and death of Jesus, in the untold abundance and fullness of blessings conferred upon him, in a vast salvation secured at a vast expense, and in a happy alliance concluded between them and the ransomed church--did they not share in the same reconciliation and feel themselves drawn nearer a God of grace, whom they can now love with a higher thrill and praise with a more rapturous hallelujah? In being reunited with man, they feel themselves brought closer to God, and though they sing of a salvation which they did not require, still they experience the Savior’s tenderness, and are charmed with the reign of His crowned humanity. The gloom that sin had thrown over them is dispelled; and creation as one united whole rejoices in the presence of God. The one Reconciler is the head of these vast dominions, and in Him meet and merge the discordant elements which sin had introduced. The breach is healed. Gabriel embraces Adam, and both enjoy a vicinity to God, which but for the reconciliation of the cross would never have been vouchsafed to either. The humanity of Jesus bringing all creatures around it, unites them to God in a bond which never before existed--a bond which has its origin in the mystery of redemption Thus all things in heaven and earth feel the effect of man’s renovation; unnumbered worlds, so thickly strewn as to appear but dim and nebulous masses, are pervaded by its harmonizing influence; a new attraction binds them to the throne. Blessings which naked Deity might not be able to bestow are poured out upon them by the incarnate Lord ‘who filleth all in all’; and the exhibition of love in the agonies of Christ may have secured what unalloyed equity could not, may have placed the universe for ever beyond the reach of apostasy and revolt. Then at length starts into view the blessed kingdom—‘the new heavens and new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.’ ”
FALLEN ANGELS CONCERNED IN THE ATONEMENT
The fallen angelic creation likewise is concerned in the atonement. It is the atonement which exposed the sin of fallen angels and brings it home to their conscience of good and evil. We have seen in cur former contributions on this subject that the original sin of angels, like the original sin of man, contained in itself the whole matter of sin in all its forms. The root of sin is quite simply pride, or to put it in alternative form--the denial of love as the principle of life. When Lucifer raised himself in revolt against God, it was because he resented the destiny which had been appointed for him as the servant of the lesser creature man. In his spirit, he repudiated the rectitude of the divine nature. In his view, God was NOT entitled to dispose of His creatures in this way, without consulting their own desires. Had not God given to him (Lucifer) a judgment and intelligence of his own? And if in that judgment he concluded that God was not good and righteous altogether in the bestowment of His gifts, had he not the right of a moral independent being (who asked not to be created) to repudiate the fate dictated to him? In this Lucifer broke the law of life, which is the law of love, which ever seeks to subordinate itself and take the lowest place. The breach of the law of love meant in Satan the extinguishing of the bright flame of his own perfect being end all became dark. It needed no act of God to create hell. Satan became hell the moment the unholy thought of rebellion rose up in him. The law of being cannot be broken without that consequence, or God Himself would cease to be God.
The full consequences of Satan’s sin and the answer thereto awaited the judgment of Calvary. The Son, the true head of creation, in whom all the fullness of the Godhead resides, came forth to bear in Himself the evil which had entered into creation. It is manifest that He could not do so unless He Himself was the law of life. Not being subject to the law as a creature, but bearing all the authority of it as the Creator, He alone was qualified to bear up the pillars of the Holy Temple and fulfill all righteousness on behalf of creation.
It is manifest, too, that this could not have been undertaken by Christ unless there had been a plurality of Persons in the Godhead. God the Son owed to God the Father the fealty and reverence of One Only Begotten. His love for the Father, in the one Spirit of love proceeding from Both, was the law of being, the law of creation. He, and He alone, could qualify by name and nature to be the bearer of evil so as to destroy it. He must bear all the weight of evil so as to expiate it before the eternal righteousness of God; and being God incarnate Himself, this act of atonement not only fulfilled all obligation of righteousness on behalf of those for whom He died, but in the same act showed and proved that God rules in creation by love--in the weakness and self-sacrifice of love, making Himself lower than all, proving Himself worthy to be the upholder of all.
Calvary, therefore, is more than the instrument for the salvation of the redeemed. It is more than forgiveness. It is the revelation of suffering, anguished Deity proving Himself in the theatre of all created intelligence and clearing the Godhead of all impeachment of unworthiness or arbitrariness.
Such a sacrifice, being a moral instrument, can avail for salvation only where there is an absolute and willing acquiescence of all it reveals. Hence the soul must be persuaded of its own deep offence and, in turning to the law of divine love, must abhor and detest its own sin and forsake it and flee from it. This in the Bible is called repentance.
The conversion of the soul may not be imposed automatically, else the coercive nature of the process would in itself deny the meaning of existence. Hence the devil will never be restored, nor those who die in their willful impenitence. Their continued existence in a state of separation from God will not be any exception to the law of divine love, for the perpetual sentence of banishment is in themselves. Their hell is their own and is an eternal state of which their consciences will forever approve. Hell is not a province of creation outside the universal law of God, for the writ of heaven runs as surely in hell as it does in the region of the blessed. The fact of the atonement will be known just as clearly in the one state as in the other, for at the name of Jesus every knee must bow. As it is the atonement that silences all hard speeches against God, so the atonement is the conditioning factor in the continued existence of every creature and to that extent it is universal and cosmic in its effect. It procures unanimity in all creation as to the worthiness of the Creator; and never again, not even in hall, will the question ever be raised as to the righteousness of God. That question has been answered in God the Son forever and forever.
NATURE INCLUDED IN THE ATONEMENT
That the natural creation, which was brought into existence as the temporary scene for the working out of the great drama or life, is included in the scope al the atonement is clear from the fact of the resurrection of the body and from the words of the apostle Paul in Romans 8:19-23.
For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God. For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope, Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.
It is thus that the atonement becomes the center of all creation. The moral dislocation caused by original sin disrupted all, but the atonement brings forth from death and the grave a new creation in which all that is discordant is forever put down.
The goal of creation is man, bearing all the glory and exercising all the dominion of the invisible God. The failure of man opened the way for the incarnation of the invisible God as man--the wonder of Bethlehem; the mystery of the Holy childhood; the devotion of deity to the common task of the village tradesman; the manifestation of the triune God at the baptism in the voice, the Dove, and the man Christ Jesus; the works of creative omnipotence in the few short years of ministry; the appointment of the twelve apostles as the spiritual patriarchs of the new mystic tribes of Israel; the solemnity of the upper room; the arrest; the blows; the degradation; the judgment; the scourging; the unanimous shout, “Crucify Him”; the crucifixion; the darkness; the sevenfold utterance of the cross, prophetic of its purpose; the bowing of the soul to death; the entombing; the watch and the seal; the glorious resurrection; the triumphant ascension; the expectation of the great consummation when at last all enemies must become the footstool of Immanuel, God with us--this is the story of the atonement. By this means, God achieves His purpose, and the sentence of Eden is executed—“The seed of the woman shall bruise thy head,” O serpent, “and thou shall bruise His heel.”
Only by the atonement is the nature of God fully revealed. Here is eternal suffering, love. Here is the meekness and patience of deity. Here God and man are reconciled. Here the superb angelic creation learns humility and is content to be the servant of a lower creation, which has for its head so adorable a God and king as Christ Jesus.
The weeping and gnashing of teeth in the dark abode of the disconsolate spirits of men and devils are the symptoms of recognition there of existence-divorced from the true purpose of love, restless evermore because only in love can the soul rest and be in peace
THE REDEMPTION OF THE CHURCH
The wisdom of God, matchless, perfect, and all-embracing„ is made known by the redemption of His church. Paul puts it in magnificent language (Ephesians 3:9-11):
And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ: To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The rebellion of sin, which began in heaven with Satan and his companions, is brought to an end at last. The confusion of the evil one and the ruin of his empire is brought about through the atonement by the redemption of the church. As it was by man that Satan aimed to destroy the throne of God; so it is by man that Satan himself is destroyed, as Newman (himself in confusion on other issues but not on this) so magnificently writes:
Oh, wisest love! that flesh and blood
Which did in Adam fail,
Should strive afresh against the foe,
Should strive and should prevail!
Oh, generous love! that He who smote
In man for man the foe,
The double agony in Man
For man should undergo!
And that a higher gift than grace
Should flesh and blood refine,
God’s presence and His very Self,
And Essence all-Divine:
So God and man at last are united in the glorious unity of Being in Him, the eternal Son, who in Himself is both God and man. In His own words in the 17th chapter of St. John’s Gospel, He speaks, “That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hest sent me. And the glory that thou gayest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hest sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me” (John 17:21-23).
As the Lord of Glory entered into the deepest humiliation that He might in weakness of human flesh bruise the great adversary’s head; so in his mystical body, the church, He continues His suffering according to Paul’s words in Colossians 1;24. Paul says there that he rejoices in his suffering for the Colossians and fills up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in his flesh for Christ’s body’s sake, which is the church. Christ suffers in His members as they endure the fiery assaults of the wicked one. The same thought is found in the Book of Revelation 12:13. “And when the dragon saw that he was cast unto the earth, he persecuted the woman which brought fifth the man child.” The dragon here is Satan. The woman who brought forth the man child is the church. The man child is Christ (who in the early part of the chapter is seen as being caught up to heaven). The casting of Satan down to the earth is the reduction and limitation of his power as between Old Testament and New Testament times. His persecution of the woman who brought forth the man child is his attempt during the history of the church to destroy the work of God and to limit the operation of the kingdom of God by persecution and trial and affliction. He does not succeed in this attempt, for the remainder of the 12th chapter of Revelation speaks of the giving to the woman of two wings of a great eagle that she should fly into the wilderness into her place where she is nourished for a time and times and half a time from the face of the serpent. This mysterious period is borrowed from the Book. of Daniel and is equivalent to what is elsewhere stated to be twelve hundred and sixty days, or three and a half years, or forty and two months, and is in fact the whole period of the church’s conflict in the world from the time of the foundation of the New Testament church at Pentecost to the return of Our Lord Jesus Christ in glory.
It is essential that the Christian should recognize (says Paul) that our warfare is not carnal and is not waged in the earthly and visible sphere, but in the heavenly and invisible region of the spirit. We war not against flesh and blood in the form of persecuting worldly forms and systems, political or otherwise. Rather we war against “principalities and powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places (that is, the wicked powers of the evil one in spiritual and invisible spheres)” (Ephesians 6:12). Paul proceeds to show that as our enemies are the evil powers in the invisible world, so our armour and our weapons must not be of this world, but are the weapons of the Spirit. The only armour which prevails in this conflict with the evil one is the spiritual weaponry of faith and truth, worship and praise, the Word of God and prayer. Again, Paul tells us that the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds.
The atonement secures in the elect the final discomfiture and destruction of the Evil One, with far-reaching effects for all creation. The faith of God’s elect, as in the case of Job, gives the lie to Satan’s contention that no one serves God except for self-advantage. The sufferings of the church, the trials and temptations of the individual Christian, the cheerfulness with which he takes up the cross to follow Christ, is the answer to all that Satan alleges against the goodness of God and the holiness of His ways.
As the firstfruits of earth to God and to the Lamb, the elect church in her completion realizes the purpose of God in creation. She is the means by which God shows forth all that HE is--and that ALL is Love. That Paul who suffered more than us all for Christ’s sake could say, “To me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21), is the answer to all that Satan has ever alleged against the righteousness of God. Paul’s voluntary confession of Christ in these stirring terms is the expression of that love which filled his heart as he contemplated the primal love of Christ to his soul. It is the grand realization that the greatest Person in the universe loved him, Paul, enough to die for him—“The Son of God...loved me, and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).
There are four worlds, therefore, which are affected eternally by the atonement. These are (1) the world of the redeemed; (2) the world of the angels confirmed and established in their perfection; (3) the world of fallen spirits, whose empire of darkness is destroyed and their power to enslave gone forever by the destruction of their only weapon--the power and fear of death; (4) the world of impenitent men, who join the world of fallen spirits in their everlasting shame, hiding themselves from the face of the all-glorious Lord Christ, whose love they despised and whose name they repudiated.
Beyond these four worlds there is the inanimate world in which God’s created power and wisdom are marvelously exhibited. This world, too, though it passes away as to its present temporal form, must, because of the atonement, be perpetuated as to its invisible powers. Though dissolved as to its present appearance as a space-time universe, it must pass through the dark cavern of nonentity to reappear as a creation of light and truth and power: a suitable field for the endless activity of the redeemed. There will be no heaven and earth as we now know these terms. There will be no sun, stars, galaxies, constellations, but the power by which these operate are the creative powers of God; and these powers endure and take new and spiritual forms suitable to the habitation of eternal spirits.
So Christ by His atonement extends His cosmic power to all regions of being and establishes forever in triumph the three-fold principle of the divine nature and the divine kingdom over which He reigns--LIGHT, LIFE AND LOVE.
* * * * * * * * * * *
THE CONCLUSION OF THE MATTER
The problem of evil arises fundamentally from the fact of a moral creation in which exists that measure of moral liberty without which creation is meaningless. We have in the brute creation an example of blind obedience to created impulses (we call it “instinct”), by which the lower creatures fulfill faithfully their part and then are carried away into nonentity by the rushing torrent of death. For them, no immortality, no survival, no resurrection to life eternal, because there is no rational will, no self-determining faculty, no soul.
Man is different. So are the angels. A joyful immortality is attained only through the proving and testing and trial and faith. They who attain heaven, choose heaven--and choose it against all the stream of sin, suffering, and death. Why they so choose, when so great a multitude of their fellows choose otherwise, is buried in the unfathomable depths of the holy wisdom of God. Let the majority decision of others give to these elect souls much humility and reservation of judgment. “Thou standest by faith: be not highminded, but fear,” is the wise and inspired counsel of the apostle.
The circumstances all point to a higher purpose working out beyond and through the true liberty of the soul of man. This purpose works secretly within the soul and only according to the true nature of the soul, not by a blind coercion as a horse is controlled by bit and bridle. “I will guide thee with mine eye... be not as the horse and the mule, whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle,” is a profound saying by which we are taught through the inspired psalmist how the sovereign Lord treats with holy respect, the faculties and liberty of the soul of man.
Yet we speak truly of that sovereign predestination without which the universe would be without pilot or rudder, and God would be chargeable with the supreme folly of having launched a moral creation and placed its destiny at the hazard of uncontrollable and unpredictable forces of a form of “freedom” greater than His own.
We are right, therefore, to speak of “Sovereign Grace,” but must beware of placing such a meaning upon the term as to relieve the soul of responsibility for its decisions and exclude the exercise of that discipline or which Peter the Apostle speaks—“Give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall” (2 Peter 1:10).
But when we have spoken the last word on the place which sinful man occupies in the redemptive purposes of God, we must recognize that above and beyond all this, is the cosmic purpose, of Almighty God to procure by moral triumph over evil, through the Eternal Son, the ultimate unanimity of creation as to His holiness and truth.
As the Apostle Paul finished his greatest task of making the highest contribution of all time as to the mystery of God’s holy purpose in creation, his spirit rose to the loftiest height of praise, admiration, and worship ever attained on earth. In adoring submission to the whole of the divine mystery, he dipped his pen in an ocean of glory and set down on his parchments this imperishable verdict--a verdict which all creation will endorse at the last universal judgment:
O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counselor? Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen. (Romans 11:33-36)
There is a movement in the Godhead. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in their one all-glorious and indivisible essence, move through created time to the fulfillment of the divine life in revealing and unfolding the glorious mystery of Itself. The Father ordains in love; the Son submits in love and sanctifies Himself to the task; the Holy Spirit seals in the indivisible unity of purpose. Creation is launched as the pattern of the divine life and built upon the same fundamental principle of threefold love. Ten thousand thousands of superb moral intelligences in the image of the divine holiness spring into being at God’s holy command and surround the invisible throne in angelic perfection. Their liberty to acquiesce in the place they are fitted to occupy in the scale of being is of the very quality of their moral creation and makes their worship and obedience a reality and not a fiction. No other worship is possible in true creation than the worship of love, in love’s adoring meekness and subordination--qualities we have already seen in the Holy Trinity itself. Yet this very liberty becomes the root of all evil in the calculated revolt of self-love turned in upon itself.
The revolt spreads from the angelic creation to the world of man, where all along God determined that the problem of creation would be fought and won. The victory would be of such a nature as would vindicate God Himself of the charge of self-love and reveal Him in the self-sacrificing meekness and compassion of the Cross.
For evil is of such a fundamental nature that any remedy from any source outside the deity itself must create a new center of worship and devotion in the universe, end God would then cease to be. This is the error of all anti-trinitarianism. Only God can redeem, and redemption may not be found through another than Himself, for only He is the LAW and qualified therefore to uphold it in Judgment. That LAW of GOD is not an arbitrary code of behavior invented for the purpose of rule and order, but is the pattern of His own being and nature. There never could be any other standard of right and wrong, as there never could have been any other kind of creation. All is patterned on what God is; therefore, only God in Person can redeem and. atone. This is permitted by His own Three-in-One being or essence, by which He is able at one and the same time to be Judge and Avenger, Victim and Accursed.
Jesus of Nazareth, the immaculately-born Son of the Virgin, is Immanuel, God-with-us, the Lord of heaven and earth, the very image of the Eternal Father, the “brightness of His glory” (and nothing can make Him more God than to be the bright outshining of God’s holiness in the going forth of the One Spirit of the Father and the Son).
In Christ, God enters into time, becomes part of His own creation, takes upon Himself the curse and the burden of revolted human nature, draws upon Himself the totality of evil and pays the penalty of awful death, in woe, weakness, sorrow and shame. By passing through darkness and death, He overcomes both, and rises from the tomb as the root and source and principle of a new creation. The old is reborn in unity with the Godhead and can never be ruptured or shattered by a new outbreak of sin because, unlike the old creation, the new is united with deity as a body is to the head. This is the Atonement. This is the key to the meaning of all things, the grand secret of the universe, the justification of God, and the guarantee of the fulfillment of the holy purpose which launched all things in the beginning.
THE END-TIME OF THE OLD CREATION
Prophetically, it seems to us that the end-time of the Old Creation’s probation is near. The downward plunge of Christian civilization in the space of a few short years into the darkness and degradation of a new and more sinister heathenism, the reckless abandonment of the foundations of law and order and discipline, the readiness of governments to acquiesce in the dangerous fallacies of atheistic humanism, the rejection of all the light which God has poured upon the earth especially in the four centuries since the Reformation, the promulgation of the sordid doctrines of racial suicide--all this foreshadows the climax of man’s history. There can be nothing in the nature of that kind of “revival” which shallow evangelicalism yearns after. Existing “movements” in the evangelical body are alarming in their tendency. Instead of a new and deep return to spiritual religion and worship, and to a consciousness of the holiness of God, these movements are centered in the personalities of men, or they exalt human agency and initiative to the diminution, if not the extinction, of the divine. Brash young fellows are doing the work of God for Him--and doing it better. Charismatic experiences--tongues, healings, exorcisms, raisings of the dead (usually in far distant and savage lands where the most extravagant of claims are immune from honest investigation)--are sought after and encouraged. Exorcisms of demons are frequently attempted in a pandemonium of noise, shouting, threatening and brow-beating, having much in common with the practices of the vagabond Jews of Ephesus, who “adjured by Jesus whom Paul preached” (Acts 19:1J). The “manifestations” of today are a parody of apostolic Christianity and are unaccompanied by any spiritual ability to expound the glorious profundities of the divine Word.
Most of the historic Protestant Churches of the Reformation have in our time denied, or are accelerating the denial, of the historic creeds of the Christian faith---God, Christ, the Incarnation, the atoning death, the resurrection, the day of judgment. At the same time, with reckless inconsistency, they make their submission to Rome, which, while observing with due ceremony the historic creeds, destroys the atonement by sacramentalism, withholds the cup from the laity, and introduces a thousand human mediators to abolish the one, true intercession of Christ.
While the Churches thus parley with antichrist, an atheistic science rages in the world and abolishes God by postulating a mindless universe with no-intelligent or moral cause for its creation and with no future except its own grave. Immortality, the Moral Law, Sin, Righteousness, and Judgment have no place in a universe which arose from nowhere, evolved itself, and is going nowhere. Why should mankind bother itself about morals and impose shackles and disciplines upon itself, if man is an animal without a soul and with no destiny but the grave?
This is Satan let loose in the last chapter of the world’s evil, but though the empire of sin seems to be universal and beyond control or meaning, the enlightened Christian, holding securely to his Bible, knows of that word which tells him that when those who now seek to dominate the human mind and to banish God and truth from the earth boast more confidently of their ability to break the iron bands of the inexorable divine law by which they are made and to cast away from them the cords of the Most High,
He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord will have them in derision (Psalm 2:4).
Even in this scene of time, the wicked will be brought to confusion as they see their boasted “liberty” turning back upon themselves and destroying them and their theories. For it is written, and it must stand, that God has set His King upon His holy hill of Zion and declared the decree, “Thou art my Son. This day have I begotten thee (from the darkness and horror of the grave). I will give thee the nations for thine inheritance and the uttermost parts of creation for thy possession. Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”
Those who will not yield to the yoke of Christ must feel the weight of His wrath. The weary and sick and heavy laden will hear and obey His call: “Come unto me, and I will give you rest.” For He has in death, laid death low and by submitting Himself to total evil, has overcome all evil and has broken the iron bars of the grave and opened the two-leaved gates of immortality.
This is the Atonement--cosmic in its nature and its achievement.
And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people and God himself shall be with them, and be their God, And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new...” (Revelation 21:3-5).