Overwhelmed By His Grace: Chapter 4 Redeeming Grace
By Brian Anderson
Not only is it true that God's grace is desperately needed, but it is equally true that it was sovereignly secured. Whereas grace was sovereignly decreed by God the Father in election, it was sovereignly secured by God the Son at the cross. There at Golgotha, our incomparable Savior secured the eternal salvation of all God's chosen people.
When one surveys all the Biblical teaching concerning the atonement of Christ, he will find that some passages seem to indicate that Christ's work at the cross was offered for all men, whereas others point to a definite design in His death to save His elect. It is only as we seek to embrace all that the Scriptures teach about the death of Christ that we will see the full glory of Christ's work of redemption. This comprehensive view of Christ's atoning work can be summed up in the motto, "Christ died sufficiently for all, but effectively only for the elect." Often the atonement of Christ is viewed with only one aspect in mind: either as strictly limited in its intention to save the elect alone, or offered equally for all men alike with no absolute intention to save a chosen people at all. Both of these views of the atonement, though containing truth, fall short of embracing the whole counsel of God upon this vital subject.
Many believers view Christ's work on the cross as though a man walked into a hardware store and laid down just enough money to buy the tools that he wanted. Others view Christ's work as though the man laid down enough money to buy everything in the store, without any intention of taking any specific items home with him. A more accurate way to view the redemption of Christ is of a man who goes into a hardware store, lays down enough money to buy everything in the store as well as the building itself, and then takes out of it those items he wants. The atoning work of Christ, in and of itself, is sufficient to save every sinner who has ever or will ever live. However, it was designed to save only God's elect.
In order to grasp the greatness of what Christ accomplished at Calvary, we need to explore the sufficiency, design, and benefits of His atonement.
The Sufficiency Of The Atonement
There are many passages of Scripture which reveal that Christ's death is sufficient to save all men.
The Biblical Testimony
Isaiah 53:6: "All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him." Notice in this passage that the same all that have gone astray and turned to their own ways are the same all whose iniquity was laid on Christ. Thus, the extent of the sins laid on Christ must exactly parallel the extent of sin in the world for the Scriptures dogmatically affirm that the entire human race has turned aside from the path of God's righteousness and have fallen short of the glory of God (Rom.3:10-12;23). Therefore, Christ as our Sin-Bearing Substitute suffered sufficiently for all.
John 1:29: "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!" Here we are told that Christ in the sacrifice of Himself as the Lamb of God would take away the sin of the whole world. Although some expositors interpret the world as the elect scattered throughout the world, it must be admitted that there is nothing in this text itself that demands that we understand this term in such a restricted manner. Rather, it would appear that this conclusion is founded upon a previously defined system of theology brought to bear upon the passage. It is interesting that John Calvin, the influential reformer, did not deem it necessary to understand the world in this text in that narrow sense. In his commentary on this verse, John Calvin states,
...when he says the sin of the world he extends this kindness indiscriminately to the whole human race, that the Jews might not think the Redeemer has been sent to them alone. From this we infer that the whole world is bound in the same condemnation; and that since all men without exception are guilty of unrighteousness before God, they have need of reconciliation. John, therefore, by speaking of the sin of the world in general, wanted to make us feel our own misery and exhort us to seek the remedy. Now it is for us to embrace the blessing offered to all, that each may make up his mind that there is nothing to hinder him from finding reconciliation in Christ if only, led by faith, he comes to Him."
John 3:16: "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life." Although some Christians believe that world here refers to the world of the elect, the Greek lexicons are unanimous in defining it as humankind. Thus, it seems far better to take the expression as referring simply to the race of Adam. God so loved the human race that He did not permit all of mankind to perish in hell. Rather, He gave His only begotten Son to die for guilty sinners, in order that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. If Jesus had meant to designate the elect by the expression "the world," He could have made His meaning much more clear by simply saying, "For God so loved the elect, that He gave His only begotten Son, that the elect should not perish, but have everlasting life." However, Jesus seems to imply a distinction between the world that God loved and gave Christ for, and "whoever believes" out of that world. Thus, "the world" must refer to the world of Adam's race whom God loved and gave Christ for. However, only those who believe in Christ from among this world of sinners shall not perish, but have eternal life. The apostle Paul writes to this effect in his letter to Titus, "But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us..." (Titus 3:4). To be sure, the love of God mentioned in this text is not the same as that everlasting love of God directed towards His chosen people from all eternity taught in other passages of Scripture (Eph.1:4-6; Col.4:12; 2Thess.2:13). However, it surely includes a genuine compassion and pity towards sinners as sinners.
Furthermore, it must be remembered that John 3:16 follows on the heels of verses 14 and 15 in which Jesus refers to Moses lifting up the serpent in the wilderness, so that "any man" who was bitten could look to it and live (Num.21:9). Jesus teaches here that the bronze serpent lifted up was a type of Him being lifted upon the cross in order that "whoever" believes might have eternal life.
Indeed, Bishop John Charles Ryle, in his commentary on John 3:16 writes,
...it seems to me a violent straining of language to confine the word "world" to the elect. "The world" is undoubtedly a name sometimes given to the "wicked" exclusively. But I cannot see that it is a name ever given to the saints. For another thing, to interpret the word "world" of the elect only is to ignore the distinction which, to my eyes, is plainly drawn in the text between the whole of mankind and those out of mankind who "believe." If the "world" means only the believing portion of mankind, it would have been quite enough to say, "God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that the world should not perish." But our Lord does not say so. He says, "that whosoever believeth, i.e., that whosoever out of the world believeth.
Along the same lines, John Calvin has written of this verse of Scripture in his commentaries,
...Christ brought life because the heavenly Father does not wish the human race that He loves to perish... He has used a general term [whosoever], both to invite indiscriminately all to share in life and to cut off every excuse from unbelievers. Such is also the significance of the term 'world' which He had used before. For although there is nothing in the world deserving of God's favour, He nevertheless shows He is favourable to the whole world when He calls all without exception to the faith of Christ, which is indeed an entry into life.
John 3:16 then, indicates that God loved and gave His Son for the race of Adam, that anyone from that race who believes in Christ might be saved. Surely then, this passage teaches that there is a sufficiency in the death of Christ for all men without exception.
2 Corinthians 5:18-20: "Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ, and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were entreating through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God." In verse 19 Paul states that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself. However in verse 20 he exhorts his readers to be reconciled to God. How is it possible that God had already reconciled the world to Himself, and yet still need to be reconciled to God? Apparently, Christ in His death achieved the possibility of reconciliation for all men, although actual reconciliation does not take place until the Holy Spirit effectually applies Christ's death to the sinner by uniting him to Christ.
1 Timothy 2:3-6: "This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony borne at the proper time." Paul expressly states not only that God desires all men to be saved, but that Christ as mediator gave Himself as a ransom for all. Although some commentators argue that the all in verses 4 and 6 mean no more than all kinds or all without distinction, again we must affirm that this interpretation is not required by the context, but instead seems to be deduced in order to harmonize with a previously held system of theology. This passage, if taken in its natural and obvious sense, indicates that in some sense, Christ's death was offered for and made available to all men. Because God desires the salvation of all, He has sent His Son to make a sufficient atonement for all. Of course, this desire on the part of God for the salvation of all men is not the same thing as His sovereign purpose to save those He has chosen from eternity past. Yet, it does express His sincere and heartfelt desire for their salvation. In accordance with that desire, Christ has laid the groundwork for their reconciliation in His death, so that any man who avails himself by faith of Christ's atoning work, elect or not, will be saved.
1 Timothy 4:10: "For it is for this we labor and strive, because we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers." Paul, in this text, points out that the living God is the Savior of all men in one sense, but especially the Savior of believers in another sense. The term "Savior" should be understood in the sense of one who reconciles us to God and redeems us from sin, as it is used earlier in this epistle (1Tim.2:3-6). Yet, how can it be said that God is both the Savior of all men, and also especially of those who believe? The answer must lie in the dual work of Christ at the cross. There in His cross-work, Christ made a sufficient provision of salvation for all men. Hence, He can truly be called the Savior of all men. However, in addition to making a sufficient provision of salvation for all, He secured the actual salvation of all those who would ever believe, and thus is especially the Savior of the elect.
Titus 2:11: "For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men..." The salvation of sinners is based upon the person and work of Jesus Christ. Yet, this passage teaches us that it has been brought to all men. This surely must indicate that Christ in His death has made salvation available to and sufficient for all men.
Hebrews 2:9: "But we do see Him who has been made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that by the grace of God He might taste death for every one." We are told very clearly that Christ tasted death for everyone in this passage. The Greek word for every one (pantos) means "each or every." The emphasis in this passage is that Christ died sufficiently for each and every person. At the same time, the context indicates that He had a particular design in His death towards the many sons He would bring to glory, those who are sanctified, His brethren, and the children God had given Him (Heb.2:10-13). Although He tasted death for every one, Christ died especially for the elect.
2 Peter 2:1: "But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves." Peter in this text instructs his readers that false teachers would come among them who would deny the Master who bought them. The word for "bought" in Greek is agaradzo. It is the Greek word commonly used to buy or purchase something. Sometimes it refers to the redemption of Christ at the cross (1Cor.6:20; Rev.5:9; 14:3). That appears to be the meaning in this passage, as it is difficult to understand how the Master bought them in any other way. If that is the case, then these false teachers who will bring swift destruction upon themselves, were "bought" in some sense by Christ's redeeming work. Perhaps the best way to understand this "purchase" of Christ is by comparing it to His own parable of the man who finds a treasure hidden in a field, and from joy over it, sells all he has in order to buy the field (Mt.13:44). Christ paid a price great enough to acquire the world in order to obtain the treasure (His elect).
1 John 2:2: "...and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world." John in this passage is referring to Jesus Christ the righteous (1Jn.2:1). John in this passage assures believers that Christ is their propitiation who averts God's wrath from them. However, at the same time, he informs them that Christ is also the propitiation for those of the whole world. In the very same epistle, John mentions the phrase whole world again saying, "the whole world lies in the power of the evil one" (1Jn.5:19). Here whole world refers to all the ungodly of the human race, for all unsaved men lie under the power of Satan. Thus, when John says that Christ is the propitiation not only for believers, but also for the sins of the whole world, he must mean that this propitiation is sufficient to save any man in the entire world. Of course, the majority of those throughout the world will never avail themselves of Christ's atoning death in order to be saved from God's wrath. However, John indicates in this passage that Christ as a propitiation for sin, is available to them, elect or not. Here we see the all-sufficiency of Christ's sacrificial death for the sins of all mankind.
Three Views of the Atonement
There are three primary views of the extent of Christ's atonement: universal, particular, and dualistic. The Universal View states that Christ died equally for all men. The Particular View states that Christ died for the elect alone. The Dualistic View asserts that Christ died for all, not for all equally. Perhaps these different ways of looking at Christ's work on the cross can best be understood by a simple illustration.
The Universal View of Christ's atonement can be illustrated by imagining that a ship with hundreds of passengers goes down at sea. Before the ship sinks, an officer wires for help. An hour later, a rescue ship arrives big enough to take in all the shipwrecked passengers. The captain of the rescue ship notices hundreds of bodies bobbing up and down in the ocean, clutching planks and debris in order to stay afloat. The captain calls out from his megaphone, "Anyone who would like to be rescued, raise your hand, and I will take you to safety!" Many hands go up all over the water, and the captain responds by hauling them into his ship and taking them safely to shore.
Now let's change the illustration a little to see the Particular View of Christ's atonement. Again we have a passenger ship that goes down at sea. But this time a man offshore finds out that his wife and four children were on the ship that has sunk. In order to save his family, he rents a six-passenger motorboat, and speeds out to the site where the ship went down. There, as he observes hundreds of people bobbing up and down in the water, he spies his own family. Passing by the drowning multitudes, he directs his small craft to his family, hauls them in, and takes them to safety, while the rest perish at sea.
There are serious difficulties with both the Universal and Particular views of the atonement. The Universal View is represented by a man with a ship big enough to save all, but its captain goes out to save no one in particular. There is no definite design in his rescue mission. However, the Scriptures clearly teach that Christ had a definite people in mind when He went to the cross. The Bible teaches that Christ gave His life a ransom for many, that He laid down His life for the sheep, that He loved the church and gave Himself up for her (Mt.20:28; Jn.10:11; Eph.5:25). Christ did not die for a vague, nameless blob of humanity. Rather, He died to save all those the Father had given Him (Jn.17:2,9,19).
One the other hand, the Particular View sees Christ's mission as the man who went out to save his family in a boat only big enough to save his wife and children. This view fails to do justice with those many texts which ascribe an infinite and inexhaustible sufficiency to the cross of Christ. The Scripture declares that Christ was the lamb of God who took away the sins of the world, that He gave His life a ransom for all, that He tasted death for everyone, and that He is a propitiation not for believers only, but also for the sins of the whole world (Jn.1:29; 1Tim.2:6; Heb.2:9; 1Jn.2:2).
Furthermore, those who hold to the Particular View, must agree that the man in the illustration is unable to give a sincere invitation for all those perishing in the sea to be saved, for even if they did desire to be saved, he has no room in his little boat for them. However, the Scriptures leave us in no doubt that God's invitations and offers of salvation to all men are sincere and genuine. "Turn to Me, and be saved, all the ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other" (Is.45:22). "As I live!" declares the Lord God, "I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways! Why then will you die, O house of Israel!" (Ezek.33:11). "And he sent out his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding feast, and they were unwilling to come" (Mt.22:3).
Happily, there is another view which avoids these pitfalls, and allows one to accept all of the Scriptural instructions about Christ's sacrifice at face value. In order to understand this view (the Dualistic View), imagine that the United States is at war with Cuba. A man's family is taken captive as prisoners of war, and are being taken back to Cuba across the Gulf of Mexico in a Cuban warship, when a violent storm capsizes the ship and causes it to sink. A man in Texas receives word that the warship his family was traveling on has gone down at sea, and being a captain in the United States Navy himself, goes out to rescue them in a massive naval ship. When he arrives, he quickly locates his family, and hauls them into the ship. Having rescued his family, he then calls out into his megaphone to the hundreds of drowning enemies, "If you would like me to take you to safety, just raise your hand!" Because of their bitter hostility to their avowed enemies, these Cuban sailors would sooner die than be saved by the United States Navy, and so all alike refuse the invitation. After sincerely and urgently offering again and again to bring anyone who wishes to safety, the man finally turns around and sadly heads back to shore.
In this illustration, the ship captain had a definite people in mind in his mission. He went to save his family. At the same time, his boat was capable of saving all those drowning at sea, and his invitations and pleadings were sincere. Likewise, the Scriptures teach that Christ in His death, had a definite design to save His elect, while at the same time made a sufficient provision for all.
Voices From Our Evangelical Heritage
John Calvin, in Book III of his Institutes states,
How do we receive those benefits which the Father bestowed on his only-begotten Son - not for Christ's own private use, but that he might enrich poor and needy men? First, we must understand that as long as Christ remains outside of us, and we are separated from him, all that he has suffered and done for the salvation of the human race remains useless and of no value for us. Therefore, to share with us what he has received from the Father, he had to become ours and to dwell within us. . . for, as I have said, all that he possesses is nothing to us until we grow into one body with him. [emphasis mine]
It's obvious from this statement that Calvin viewed Christ's sacrifice as offered on behalf of the human race, yet not actually saving any man until he is given union with Christ.
Recognizing the sufficiency of the atonement of Christ, the framers of the Canons of the Synod of Dort wrote in 1619,
The death of the Son of God is the only and most perfect sacrifice and satisfaction for sin; is of infinite worth and value, abundantly sufficient to expiate the sins of the whole world. . . And, whereas many who are called by the gospel do not repent nor believe in Christ, but perish in unbelief; this is not owing to any defect or insufficiency in the sacrifice offered by Christ upon the cross, but is wholly to be imputed to themselves. (Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, Vol. 3, Baker, p.586.)
Likewise, Jonathan Edwards, one of the great thinkers of church history, in his sermons has stated,
...Christ, having fully satisfied for all sin, or having wrought out a satisfaction that is sufficient for all, it is now no way inconsistent with the glory of the divine attributes to pardon the greatest sins of those who in a right manner come unto Him for it. (The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Vol. 2, Banner of Truth, p.111.)
John Newton, in reflecting upon the question of the extent of Christ's atonement wrote,
The extent of the atonement is frequently represented, as if a calculation had been made, how much suffering was necessary for the surety to endure, in order exactly to expiate the aggregate number of all the sins of all the elect; that so much He suffered precisely, and no more; and that when this requisition was completely answered, He said, "It is finished, bowed His head, and gave up the ghost." But this nicety of computation does not seem analogous to that unbounded magnificence and grandeur which overwhelm the attentive mind in the contemplation of the divine conduct in the natural world. When God waters the earth, He waters it abundantly. He does not restrain the rain to cultivated or improvable spots, but, with a profusion of bounty worthy of Himself, His clouds pour down water with equal abundance upon the barren mountain, the lonely desert, and the pathless ocean. Why may we not say, with the Scripture, that Christ died to "declare the righteousness of God," to manifest that He is just in justifying the ungodly who believe in Jesus? And for anything we know to the contrary, the very same display of the evil and demerit of sin, by the Redeemer's agonies and death, might have been equally necessary, though the number of the elect were much smaller than it will appear to be when they shall all meet before the throne of glory." (The Works of John Newton, Vol. 4, Banner of Truth, p.193-194.)
Charles Hodge, Professor at Princeton Seminary for fifty-eight years writes,
As no limit can be placed on the dignity of the eternal Son of God who offered Himself for our sins, so no limit can be assigned to the meritorious value of His work. It is a gross misrepresentation of the Augustinian doctrine to say that it teaches that Christ suffered so much for so many, and that He would have suffered more had a greater number of people been included in the purpose of salvation. This is not the doctrine of any Church on earth and never has been. What was sufficient for one was sufficient for all. Nothing less than the light and heat of the sun is sufficient for any one plant or animal. But what is absolutely necessary for each is abundantly sufficient for the infinite number and variety of plants and animals which fill the earth. All that Christ did and suffered would have been necessary had only one human soul been the object of redemption, and nothing different and nothing more would have been required had every child of Adam been saved through His blood... Christ fulfilled the conditions of the covenant under which all men were placed. He rendered the obedience required of all and suffered the penalty which all had incurred; therefore, His work is equally suited to all... Augustinians readily admit, however, that the death of Christ had a relation to the whole human family as well. It is the ground on which salvation is offered to every creature under heaven who hears the gospel... In view of the effects which the death of Christ produces on the relation of all mankind to God, it has in all ages been customary with Augustinians to say that Christ died sufficiently for all, but efficaciously only for the elect. There is a sense, therefore, in which He died for all, and there is a sense in which He died for the elect alone. (Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology Abridged, Baker, p.388-389.)
A. A. Hodge, the son of Charles Hodge and Professor of Systematic Theology at Princeton Seminary, wrote,
A bona fide offer of the gospel, therefore, is to be made to all men - 1st. Because the satisfaction rendered to the law is sufficient for all men. 2d. Because it is exactly adapted to the redemption of all. 3d. Because God designs that whosoever exercises faith in Christ shall be saved by him. Thus the atonement makes the salvation of every man to whom it is offered objectively possible. The design of Christ's death being to secure the salvation of his own people, incidentally to the accomplishment of that end, it comprehends the offer of that salvation freely and honestly to all men on the condition of their faith. No man is lost for the want of an atonement, or because there is any other barrier in the way of his salvation than his own most free and wicked will. (A.A. Hodge, Outlines of Theology, Banner of Truth, p.420.)
Robert Lewis Dabney, the leading theological guide of the Southern Presbyterian Church during the 19th century, likewise affirms
But [Christ's] sacrifice, expiation, is one--the single, glorious, indivisible act of the divine Redeemer, infinite and inexhaustible in merit. Had there been but one sinner, Seth, elected of God, this whole divine sacrifice would have been needed to expiate his guilt. Had every sinner of Adam's race been elected, the same one sacrifice would be sufficient for all. We must absolutely get rid of the mistake that expiation is an aggregate of gifts to be divided and distributed out, one piece to each receiver, like pieces of money out of a bag to a multitude of paupers. Were the crowd of paupers greater, the bottom of the bag would be reached before every pauper got his alms, and more money would have to be provided. I repeat, this notion is utterly false as applied to Christ's expiation, because it is a divine act. It is indivisible, inexhaustible, sufficient in itself to cover the guilt of all the sins that will ever be committed on earth. This is the blessed sense in which the Apostle John says (1st Epistle ii. 2): "Christ is the propitiation (the same word as expiation) for the sins of the whole world." (Robert Lewis Dabney, The Five Points of Calvinism, Sprinkle, p.61.)
The affirmation of an unlimited sufficiency in the Christ's atoning work is further affirmed by Henry C. Fish in The Baptist Scriptural Catechism of 1850 where it contains the following exchange,
Q. Did the atonement, in its saving design, embrace more than the elect?
A. The elect only; for whatever he designed he will accomplish, and he saves only "his people from their sins." Matt. i. 21.
Q. And yet, was it not in its nature of sufficient value for the salvation of all mankind?
A. It was; and hence God is said to have "sent his Son into the world that the world through him might be saved." John iii.17. Heb. ii.9. John i.29. II Cor.v.14-20. I Tim.ii.6. I John ii.2. (Henry C. Fish, The Baptist Scriptural Catechism, Fletcher, 2:52.)
Why is it important to understand the sufficiency of the death of Jesus Christ to save all men? I believe there are two very important reasons.
First, the sufficiency of Christ's death gives us an accurate understanding of the character of God. If we believe that Christ died only for the elect, and provides nothing at all for the non-elect, we would have no choice but to see God as heartless and unfeeling towards the majority of the human race. Some Christians believe that God has nothing but hatred in His heart towards the non-elect. However, when we understand that Christ in His death offered Himself as a sufficient atonement for all men, and sincerely invites all men to come to Him to receive life, we can begin to understand those passages of Scripture which declare, "As I live! I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways! Why then will you die, O house of Israel?" (Ezek.33:11); "The Lord is good to all, and His mercies are over all His works" (Ps.145:9); and "God desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1Tim.2:4). Jesus Himself declared to the unbelieving religious leaders of His day, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling" (Mt.23:37).
Surely, these passages of Scripture indicate a general benevolence, kindness, love and compassion of God towards all men. Because of this genuine pity, God does not desire the sinner's destruction, but rather that he would turn and live. We know, of course, that this desire of God for man's salvation is not equal to His sovereign purpose to save the elect. Though difficult for us to understand, Scripture indicates that God desires the salvation of all, yet has not decreed in His infinite wisdom to save all men. Rather, He has purposed in His sovereignty to infallibly save His elect, and leave the rest to their just deserts. Though we may want to eat a hot fudge sundae, we may choose not to because we are on a diet. In that case, we have real desires which we have the power to fulfill, but choose not to for a higher reason. Likewise, theologian R. L. Dabney illustrates this truth by pointing out that though General George Washington had real and profound compassion for Major Andre who had committed high treason against the U.S. government, he still resolutely signed his death warrant. (Discussions of Robert Lewis Dabney, Vol. 1, Banner of Truth, p.284-285.) Surely, if human beings sometimes act contrary to their legitimate desires because of the higher principles of justice and wisdom, it should not be difficult for us to imagine that our infinitely complex God does also.
Secondly, the sufficiency of Christ's death for all men is necessary for us to extend a sincere gospel offer of salvation to all men. Christ has commanded us to preach the gospel to all creation (Mk.16:15); declared that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life (Jn.3:16); and that his servants are to proclaim, "Come, for everything is ready now" (Lk.14:17). If Christ in His death has not made salvation possible for the non-elect, how can we urge them to believe on Christ in order to be saved? Hypothetically speaking, even if they did believe, they could not be saved, for Christ, according to this view, did not atone for their sins. Therefore, if Christ's atoning work did not make salvation possible for the non-elect, we are left in the untenable position of commanding and exhorting all men to come to Christ to be saved, even though if many of them did come, there would be no salvation provided for them. If Christ died strictly for the elect alone, then sinners can never know whether Christ died for them or not until after they have believed. In that case, there is no objective grounds for a sinner to come and trust in Christ for salvation, because he can't know whether there is any salvation available to him until after he has been converted. Surely, this is to reverse the order. First we see that Christ is an all-sufficient Savior. Then, we come to Him in faith relying upon Him alone for salvation.
We will never be completely free to urge all men to come to Christ for salvation until we believe that His death is sufficient for all men, elect or not. With that understanding we can go forth and declare that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself and beg sinners to be reconciled with God (2Cor.5:19-20). We can invite, plead, and entreat men and women to come to Christ, assuring them that a full and free salvation is waiting for them. We can lift up our voices and cry out, "Come, for everything is now ready!" However, without this conviction, we will find ourselves hedging the gospel invitation by saying, "if you come to Christ you can know that He died for you." Or, worse yet, we might decide that the gospel should not be offered to all men, but only to those sinners who give some evidence that they are elect by being sensible of their sin. Rather than giving us freedom and boldness in preaching the gospel to all, this would quench our zeal for the lost. If we are to take the gospel to all men, it is important to see Christ's death as sufficient to save all men.
The Design of the Atonement
Not only does Christ's death appear glorious when we understand that it is sufficient for all men, but it appears even more glorious when we understand its sovereign design. Though the death of Jesus Christ was sufficient to save all men, it was sovereignly designed to infallibly save the elect alone. When it comes to the sufficiency of the cross, it was unlimited. When, however, it comes to the saving design and intention of God in the cross, it was limited to the elect.
The Atonement Was Designed To Save The Elect
The sufferings and death of Jesus Christ were God's means of bringing to pass His purpose of election. Having chosen a great number of persons to salvation before the foundation of the world, He still needed to send His Son to secure their salvation. Thus, Christ was born, lived, suffered, died and rose again in order to save His people from their sins (Mt.1:21).
The Scriptures teach that Christ came into the world to represent a particular group of people. Jesus repeatedly spoke of those that the Father had given Him. "For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day" (Jn.6:38-39). "Father, the hour has come; glorify Thy Son, that the Son may glorify Thee, even as Thou gavest Him authority over all mankind, that to all whom Thou hast given Him, He may give eternal life" (Jn.17:2).
These same people are sometimes referred to as His sheep. Jesus taught that they would hear the voice of their Shepherd, and follow Him. At the same time He, as their Shepherd-Savior would lay down His life, in order to give them eternal life so that they would never perish. "I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep" (Jn.10:11). "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of My hand" (Jn.10:27-28). Paul refers to these people as God's flock that Christ purchased with His own blood. "Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood" (Acts 20:28).
On other occasions these people are referred to as "the many." "By His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, as He will bear their iniquities" (Is.53:11). "...just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many" (Mt.20:28). "...for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins" (Mt.26:28). "...so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, shall appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him" (Heb.9:28).
In other passages these people are called His church. "Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood" (Acts 20:28). "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her" (Eph.5:25).
As we can readily see, though Christ's death was sufficient for all, He had a specific group of people in mind when He went to the cross. These people - referred to as those given Him by the Father, the many, the sheep, and the church - are the ones He came to save. They are those chosen in Him from before the foundation of the world (Eph.1:4). They are those who will be saved according to God's own purpose and grace granted them in Christ Jesus from all eternity (2Tim.1:9). They are those who have been appointed to eternal life (Acts 13:48).
Christ's death can be likened to an elephant gun. An elephant gun is a very powerful firearm, sufficient to kill an elephant - the largest of all land animals on the earth today. Yet, it can be used to kill something as small as a mouse if aimed properly. Likewise, Christ's death is capable of saving the whole world, yet God wasn't aiming at the world. He was aiming at those He had chosen for salvation from before the foundation of the world.
The Atonement Secured the Saving Work of the Holy Spirit
Though the death of Christ makes the salvation of all men possible because of its inherent sufficiency, it makes the salvation of the elect certain because of its inherent efficacy. The Scriptures teach that the saving work of the Holy Spirit was purchased and secured by Christ in His death. Thus, the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, resulting in faith, repentance, justification, sanctification, perseverance, and glorification all flow from the work of Christ at Calvary.
In Paul's epistle to Titus he writes, "He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior" (Tit.3:5-6).
Herein lies the particularity of the atoning work of Jesus Christ. This text makes clear that the regenerating and renewing work of the Holy Spirit takes place by virtue of Christ's death. Yet, the Holy Spirit is given in saving efficacy only to God's elect. Therefore, though Christ died for all men, He did not die equally for all. He purchased some things for all men, but all things for some men. Christ, in His death, accomplished something more for the elect than He did for the non-elect. Though He made the salvation of all men possible, He made the salvation of the elect certain, by purchasing for them the all-powerful influences of the Holy Spirit, who would convict, regenerate, indwell, seal, and sanctify them. We shall have occasion to speak more about the Spirit's work in the following chapter. Suffice it to say, that Christ infallibly secured the salvation of all those given to Him by the Father by securing for them the saving work of the Holy Spirit, who would effectually apply Christ's atonement to them.
This same truth comes out also in Acts 5:30-31 where Peter declares to the members of the Sanhedrin, "The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had put to death by hanging Him on a cross. He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins." Notice that because of Christ's death, resurrection, and ascension He is now a Prince and a Savior who is able to grant repentance and forgiveness of sins. In other words, by virtue of His death, Christ has the right and ability to apply the fruits of His death. And, now only does He possess that right, but He exercises that right in sovereign majesty. Not only does Christ bestow forgiveness of sins, but He also grants the means by which we receive that forgiveness - repentance (Acts 2:38). Thus we see again that Christ by His death did much more than merely make salvation possible for all. He made salvation certain for His elect by obtaining the ability to apply His redeeming work to their lives through the Holy Spirit.
Further, the apostle Paul, as part of his argument to prove nothing is able to separate a true believer from the saving and sustaining love of God declares, "He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?" (Rom.8:32). Here Paul is arguing from the greater to the lesser. Since God has already paid the greatest possible price when He delivered up His Son to death, surely He will not withhold any lesser gifts, but with Christ also freely give us all things. A couple of observations are in order from this text. First, the context restricts the "us all" Christ was delivered up for to the elect. Paul is speaking of those who love God (8:28), those who were foreknown, predestined, called, justified and are sure of being glorified (8:29-30). Furthermore, they are expressly declared as the elect in the very next verse, "Who will bring a charge against God's elect?" (Rom.8:33). Secondly, the "all things" Paul says God will freely give to those He delivered His Son up to death for, must refer to the various aspects of the application of redemption - calling, justification, preservation, and glorification (8:30,38-39). Since God does not give these blessings to all men, Christ must not have been delivered up for all men in the same way. Although Christ died to make salvation possible for all, we see here that He died to make salvation absolutely certain for the elect.
In Titus 2:14 the apostle Paul points to this same truth when he declares that Jesus Christ "gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds." Just a few verses earlier, in Titus 2:11, Paul affirmed that the "grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men." Clearly, Paul in this passage maintains that Christ's atoning death which brings salvation is made available and offered to all men who hear the gospel, and speaks of its inherent sufficiency to save all. However, three verses later, Paul speaks of the particular design of the atonement when He says that Christ gave Himself for us that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself a people for His own possession. Here we have God's sovereign intention in Christ's atonement. Having offered Himself as a satisfaction for sin, Christ now has the right and ability to sovereignly apply that atonement by redeeming (setting free by the payment of a ransom) and purifying a definite people. These people are described as "a people for His own possession" - an expression which is borrowed from Exodus 19:5 where God depicts Israel, His chosen people under the Old Covenant, as "My own possession among all the peoples." Paul borrows this language, and applies it to the Church - God's chosen covenant people of the New Covenant. Thus, though Christ's atoning sacrifice is sufficient for and available to all men, it actually secured the eternal salvation of all God's elect by enabling Christ to apply the benefits of that atonement (redemption and purification) to them which He does in a way of sovereignty and covenant faithfulness.
The authors of the Canons of the Synod of Dort affirmed the particularity of the intention of Christ in His death to save His elect by purchasing for them the gifts of the Holy Spirit when they wrote,
For this was the sovereign counsel and most gracious will and purpose of God the Father that the quickening and saving efficacy of the most precious death of His Son should extend to all the elect, for bestowing upon them alone the gift of justifying faith, thereby to bring them infallibly to salvation; that is, it was the will of God that Christ by the blood of the cross, whereby He confirmed the new covenant, should effectually redeem out of every people, tribe, nation, and language, all those, and those only, who were from eternity chosen to salvation and given to Him by the Father; that He should confer upon them faith, which, together with all the other saving gifts of the Holy Spirit, He purchased for them by His death; should purge them from all sin, both original and actual, whether committed before or after believing; and having faithfully preserved them even to the end, should at last bring them, free from every spot and blemish, to the enjoyment of glory in His own presence forever. (Schaff, Creeds of Christendom, Vol. 3,Baker, p.587.)
Andrew Fuller, an English Particular Baptist of the 18th and 19th century, points to this same glorious truth by affirming,
It is allowed that the death of Christ has opened a way whereby God can consistently with his justice forgive any sinner whatever who returns to him by Jesus Christ. It is necessary to our salvation that a way and a highway to God should be opened: Christ is such a way, and is as free for any sinner to walk in as any highway whatever from one place to another; but, considering the depravity of human nature, it is equally necessary that some effectual provision should be made for our walking in that way. We conceive that the Lord Jesus Christ made such a provision by his death, thereby procuring the certain bestowment of faith, as well as all other spiritual blessings which follow upon it . . . Herein consists the particularity of redemption. (The Works of Andrew Fuller, Sprinkle, 2:489.)
Likewise, James P. Boyce, the principal founder of the first Southern Baptist Seminary in Kentucky in the mid 19th century, writes,
That same death however, secures salvation to the Elect, because by it Christ also obtained for them those gracious influences by which they will be led to comply with the conditions. (Abstract of Systematic Theology, Dulk Christian Foundation, p.340.)
Robert Lewis Dabney concurs,
Some sinners (i.e., elect), receive from God gifts of conviction, regeneration, faith, persuading and enabling them to embrace Christ, and thus make His atonement effectual to themselves; while other sinners do not. But these graces are a part of the purchased redemption, and bestowed through Christ. Hence His redemption was intended to affect some as it did not others. (Systematic Theology, Banner of Truth, p.522.)
The Atonement Is In Perfect Harmony With Election And Calling
If God the Father has chosen to save a people from all eternity, and God the Spirit applies salvation to these very ones (2 Thess. 2:13), then it must follow that God the Son had these same persons in view when He went to the cross. Do the three persons of the Trinity work together to accomplish the same purpose, or do they have cross purposes from one another? In other words, has the Father elected a people, Christ died with the intention of saving all men, while the Holy Spirit only regenerates those the Father has elected? We ought not entertain such unworthy thoughts of God to imagine the members of the Trinity working at cross purposes from each other! Surely, the members of the Trinity work together in perfect harmony in effecting God's eternal purpose. The Scriptures indicate that God has a universal love of benevolence, pity and compassion for all His creatures (Ezek.33:11; Jn.3:16; Titus 3:4), while at the same time a particular saving love towards His elect (Eph.1:4-5; 2:4; Rom.9:21-25). Moreover, God extends a universal call to all men without exception who hear the gospel to repent and believe (Mt.22:14), while at the same time issues a particular saving call which draws the elect effectually to Christ (Rom.8:30). Furthermore, God grants universal (common) grace to all men (Mt.5:43-48), while bestowing saving grace upon His elect alone (Eph.2:4-5) Why then should it surprise us, to find that not only is there a universal sufficiency to Christ's death, there is also a particular design to render the salvation of the elect certain? Jesus said that He came down from Heaven not to do His own will, but the will of Him who sent Him (John 6:38). Surely, the three persons of the triune God all have the same purpose that they are working together to accomplish.
This truth becomes clear when we recognize that the salvation of sinners is the result of an eternal arrangement between the three persons of the Godhead. Before the foundation of the world, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit agreed upon the terms of this arrangement. God the Father chose a great number of the human family and gave them to Christ as the reward of His obedience and suffering (Eph.1:4; Jn.17:2). God the Son agreed to secure the salvation of these persons by His perfect obedience and substitutionary death (Jn.6:38-39; Is.53:10-12). Finally, God the Holy Spirit agreed to quicken these elect sinners, make them alive together with Christ, and effectually apply the salvation purchased for them by Jesus Christ.
When a believer grasps the truth that Christ came with a definite design to secure his salvation, he will appreciate the cross like never before.
Suppose I were to attend a Christmas party at work where the employees exchange gifts with one another. Each employee purchases a gift, wraps it, and puts it under the decorated tree, but doesn't know who will end up receiving it. Because I am wealthy and money is no object, I buy an expensive diamond ring, wrap it, and place it under the tree. One of the ladies present at the party happens to pick the gift which I had wrapped. When she unwraps her present she is stunned to see the beautiful diamond ring inside, but it does not touch her deeply emotionally, because she knows that the person who gave the gift did not have her in mind when buying it.
Now, let us change the situation a little bit. Let us suppose that I want to buy a special Christmas gift for my wife to show her just how much I love her. I scrimp and save throughout the year. In order to get the amount of money needed, I go to the bank and empty our savings account. When she is out with her girlfriends, I secretly shop with her in mind and pick out a ring I know she will love. Then, in anticipation of her face lighting up with joy as she opens the gift, I carefully wrap the box and place it under the tree.
Which person, do you suppose, will have a deeper appreciation for the gift -- the lucky fellow employee, or the dearly loved and cherished wife? Which one will be overwhelmed by my gift? Of course it will be the one I had particularly in mind when I made such a great sacrifice of love. Likewise, the stupendous nature of God's grace is showcased when we realize that Christ died in particular for His elect. The reason I use that illustration is to showcase the wondrous nature of God's grace. If Jesus, in His death, had no one in particular in mind, but left the results of His cross-work to those who would happen to choose Him, His love would not be nearly as precious and meaningful as it is when you know that He had you particularly in mind when He went to the cross. The Bible teaches us that, if we are Christians, Jesus Christ had us personally in mind when He died to purchase our salvation. Christ was not dying for a nameless, faceless blob of humanity in hopes that someone out there would benefit from it by choosing Him of their free will. Rather, He was dying to purchase a full and free salvation for His people, including the gifts of faith and repentance.
Not only does the truth of God's sovereign design in the death of Christ fill us with gratitude and appreciation that He had us specifically in mind when He offered Himself in sacrifice upon the cross, but it also gives us great confidence that God's purposes are sure and certain, and will in no way be frustrated. If Christ in His death had no absolute intention to save any particular persons, it is possible that heaven would be left unpopulated. If Christ died for all men equally alike, leaving the results of who would benefit by His death to the sinner's fickle will, how could we have any confidence that anyone would be saved? We could send our missionaries to foreign lands, hoping against hope, that someone out there would decide to follow Christ, yet not knowing whether anyone would be saved. However, when we realize that Christ went to the cross, knowing full well exactly who He would redeem by His death, we can send out missionaries preaching to the ends of the earth, knowing that Christ has made certain the salvation of a great multitude which no man can number (Rev.7:9) out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation (Rev.5:9), and that their salvation must infallibly come to pass. Furthermore, we understand how Jesus could say, "I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they shall hear My voice; and they shall become one flock with one shepherd" (Jn.10:16).
The Benefits of the Atonement
The overwhelming nature of God's grace becomes apparent not only as we see its sufficiency for all and its particular design for the elect, but also the rich and precious benefits that accrue to those who believe on Him.
The Death Of Christ Redeems From Sin
To "redeem" means to set free by the payment of a ransom. For us to say that Jesus is our Redeemer, is to say that He is our Ransomer. Inherent in the concept of redemption are the ideas of deliverance and purchase. We have all read accounts in which a kidnapper steals a wealthy man's child, and demands a huge ransom to be given by a specific date and time. When the money is given as ransom, the child is set free (at least that is how it is supposed to work!). When we believed in Jesus Christ, we received our "release" from the curse of the Law, the power of the devil, this evil world, and our former futile lives. Consider the following texts:
Galatians 3:10,13: "For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, to perform them.' Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us-- for it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.'" The Bible is clear that all those who seek to be justified by observing the Law, are really under its curse. But Christ has set us free from the curse of the Law by becoming a curse for us when He hung upon the cross.
Hebrews 2:14-15: "Since then the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil; and might deliver those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives." In this text believers are called "children" who feared death and were in bondage to the devil all their lives. Yet, Christ by His death delivered them from His iron grip.
Galatians 1:3-4: "Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us out of this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father." Not only did Christ's death deliver believers from the curse of the Law and bondage to the devil, but also from this present evil age. Christ's death has delivered believers from the corruption that is in the world by lust (2Pet.1:4).
Ephesians 1:7: "In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace." In this text the apostle Paul highlights the fact that Christ's sacrificial death is the means by which we are freed from the punishment due us because of our sins (Rev.1:5). Christ's death brings forgiveness rather than wrath to those who believe.
1 Peter 1:18-19: ". . . knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ." Peter affirms that Christ by His death has redeemed us from our futile way of life inherited from our forefathers. Whether Peter's readers were Jews who were ignorant of God's Messiah, or Gentiles whose lives were steeped in superstition and idolatry, their lives were empty. Christ, by His death set them (and us) free from an empty, futile life, and brought them into an abundant life filled with eternal purpose and meaning.
The Death Of Christ Reconciles To God
As sinners we arrive in this world as God's enemies. That which produces this great hostility between God and man is our own sin. The only way that a sinner can have this hostility removed so that he can be the friend of God is to have the source of this hostility removed, and that only through the death of Jesus Christ. Through faith in the sacrificial death of Christ, a sinner becomes the friend of God, no longer alienated by wicked works, but brought near to God through the blood of Christ. Consider God's Word:
Romans 5:10: "For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life." Notice in this text that our reconciliation with God was achieved on the ground of Christ's death. That which separated God and man is sin. By dying for our sins, Christ was able to removed that which caused the enmity, thereby obtaining our reconciliation to God.
Colossians 1:21-22 "And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach..." Sinners are at war with God. They are God's enemies. In Colossians 1:20 Paul explains that Christ made peace through the blood of His cross. The only way our sins could be removed was for Christ to die for them as our Substitute. When He did this, He removed the cause of hostility, and made it possible for us to be at peace with God.
1 Peter 3:18: "For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, in order that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit..." Before we were saved, we were separate from Christ, alienated from God, and cut off from all hope. Christ's death, however, paid the penalty our sins deserved, thus achieving the means by which we could be reconciled with God.
The Death Of Christ Propitiates God
A propitiation is a sacrifice or payment which removes wrath. For example, let us suppose that you have been shopping, and having finished up, walk out to your car to put your groceries away. As you approach, you notice a large dent in the passenger door, as well as a car nearby with a large dent in its front bumper. I happen to be in the front seat of the other car. I jump quickly out of the car, run over to where you are and exclaim, "I'm so sorry! It all happened so fast! I'll pay for the damages. Here -- is this enough?" All the time I am talking, I am putting $100 bills in your hand. Now, your car is only worth $1,000, but I have already placed $2,000 dollars in your hands. At this, you turn to me and say, "Yes, that's enough. I'm satisfied! I'm happy! Don't worry about that old dent -- this will do just fine!" In this illustration I have propitiated you. I offered a payment which satisfied you and made you happy. In the same way, Jesus Christ offered a sacrifice to His Father which satisfied His justice and removes His wrath from sinners who turn to Christ in faith. The death of Jesus Christ turns away God's righteous indignation so that He can accept the believing sinner without violating His holy nature. Consider how these texts speak of Christ's work at the cross making propitiation:
Hebrews 2:17: "Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people." How did Christ make propitiation for the sins of the people? The answer lies three verses earlier where the Scripture states, "Since then the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil." Christ propitiated God by bearing the wrath that our sins deserved.
1 John 4:10: "In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins." When Scripture writers speak of the Father "sending" the Son they are referring to the whole redemptive mission of Jesus Christ which culminated in His death and resurrection. When the Father sent the Son on a mission to save His people, He did so by becoming a wrath-averting sacrifice for their sins.
Romans 3:24-26: "being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus." Paul explains in this passage that Christ became a propitiatory sacrifice in His blood. That is to say, by the means of His death, Christ has become a propitiation which turns away God's wrath from His believing people.
The Death Of Christ Expiates Sin
Expiation speaks of Christ removing our sins away from (ex) us, and thus, canceling sin. The truth that Christ has removed the sins of believers away from them is found in many places in Scripture. The author of Hebrews states categorically, "...but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself" (Heb.9:26). John the Baptist cried out in reference to Christ, "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!" (Jn.1:29). Furthermore, the apostle John wrote, "And you know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin" (1Jn.3:5). Isaiah prophesies, "He Himself bore the sin of many" (Is.53:12), while Peter picks up this theme and writes, "He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross" (1Pet.2:24).
When Christ died, He purchased forgiveness and justification for all who would believe. This truth is woven like a golden thread throughout the Scriptures. "He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross" (Col.2:13-14). "This is the blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins" (Mt.26:28). "In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace" (Eph.1:7). "To Him who loves us, and released us from our sins by His blood" (Rev.1:5). "By His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, as He will bear their iniquities" (Is.53:11). "Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him" (Rom.5:9).
The doctrine of expiation of sins through the death of Christ is illustrated vividly through the "scapegoat" on the Day of Atonement (Lev.16:21-22). On this solemn day, the high priest would lay his hands on the head of a live goat, and confess over it all the sins of the people of Israel. In this way, their sins were symbolically transferred to the head of the live goat. At this point, one of the men of Israel would lead the goat away into a solitary place, and release it never to return again. When the goat had skipped off into the distance, the man would race back into the camp amid great shouts of joy from the sons of Israel. The release of the "scapegoat" into the wilderness each year, signified to the people of Israel that God had taken away their sins never to return again. Likewise, having come to Christ in saving faith, we are confident that He has borne our sins away, never to return to us again (Ps.103:12; Mic.7:19).
The glory of Christ's work on the cross is highlighted when we see not only that it is sufficient for every individual of Adam's race, sovereignly efficacious for all His elect, but also infinitely precious in its precious saving benefits. If the cross has redeemed us, then at one time we were slaves to sin. If it has reconciled us, then we at one time were enemies of God and our Lord Jesus Christ. If it has propitiated God, then we at one time were under the wrath of God. And finally, if it has expiated our sins, then at one time the guilt of our sins was upon us. Slaves! Enemies! Deserving of wrath! Full of the guilt of sin! That is how the Bible describes us prior to receiving God's rich salvation. If we are free from sin, friends of God, objects of His mercy, and delivered from the guilt of sin which clung to us so tenaciously, it is only because of God's overwhelming grace brought to us through the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Having seen the nature of Christ's atonement, we can begin to truly appreciate God's grace displayed in the cross. Not only were we hopeless and helpless to save ourselves, or to even lift a finger to cooperate with God in our salvation, not only did God decree our salvation from all eternity, but Jesus Christ went to the cross with us particularly in mind and paid the price for every one of our sins. He loved us and gave Himself for us! He knew us before we were born, and hung between heaven and hell bearing His Father's wrath for us. Oh, what a glorious thought! Truly His grace is overwhelming. Along with the apostle Paul we can exclaim with wonder, "He loved me, and gave Himself for me" (Gal.2:20).
Chapter 5 >