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To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.
(2 Cor. 5:19).
And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement. (Rom. 5:11).
But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.
(1 John 1:7).
By Robert Roberts
Christadelphian Publishing Offices, 139, Moor Street
Table of Contents
Very Simple, Very Reasonable
Begotten of God, yet Son of Adam
No Need for being Shocked
The Place of Forgiveness
The Divine Side of Christ
The Gracious Act of God
Sin in the Flesh
Importance of Understanding
Effect on Character
The Final Triumph
There is no operation of Divine wisdom that has been so completely misapprehended and misrepresented as the shedding of the blood of Christ. Popular preaching brings it down to a level with the sacrifices of idolatrous superstition, by which wrathful deities are supposed to be placated by the blood of a substitutionary victim. Christ is represented as having paid our debts -- as having died instead of us -- as having stood in our room like a substitute in military service, or like a man rushing to the scaffold where a criminal is about to be executed, and offering to die instead of him (a favourite illustration in the evangelical pulpit).
Such views are contradicted by even the most superficial facts of the case; for if Christ died instead of us, then we ought not to die (which we do); and if he paid the penalty naturally due from us -- death -- he ought not to have risen (which he did). And if his death was of the character alleged, the redeeming power lay in itself and not in the resurrection that followed; whereas Paul declares to the Corinthians that, notwithstanding the death of Christ, "if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain: ye are yet in your sins" (1 Cor. 15:17).
Further, if Christ has paid our debts, our debts are not "forgiven," for it would be out of place for a creditor to talk of having forgiven a debt which someone else has paid for the debtor; and thus is blotted out the very first feature of the gospel of the grace of God -- the forgiveness of our sins "through the forbearance of God" (Rom. 3:25).
It is a subject calling for great reverence of mind in order to grasp its proper apprehension; for it is the subject of a divine procedure, with divine objects. Those who have little faith in God, and little reverence for Him, can have but very small interest in it. Those who love God approach it with deep humility and fervent desire and strong interest. At the same time, it requires something besides reverence; it requires understanding. While in a sense, all Divine ways are too high for human
understanding, wherein He has condescended to invite us to understand, it is ours to respond. We see many people of a reverent type of mind, even to the degree of superstition, who have no understanding.
There are two extremes which it is desirable to avoid. They may be taken to be represented by the red hot Salvationist and the very cool moralist. The Salvationist talks a great deal about "the blood of Christ", but talks in a way that outrages understanding and throws a cloud over God's dealings. The moralist avoids reference to the blood of Christ altogether. With him it is a mere phrase without a practical meaning. Wisdom steers a middle course, and aims to get that nice equilibrium of facts which results from a comprehensive study of the Scriptures.
First, let us recognise as against the moralist that, according to all the apostles, the "blood of Christ" represents an integral element in the system of wisdom placed in the earth for the salvation of men, and that therefore, if it is a something that we cannot place in our conception of man's relation to God, it is evidence that we are out of harmony with the apostolic scheme of things, and that we stand on the foundation of human thought alone, which is no foundation at all as regards futurity. There is no power in human thought to affect the future; God only can do this, and He will do it in harmony with His thoughts and not ours. Therefore wisdom lies in getting inside of His thoughts; thinking in harmony with Him, which is being "spiritually minded" the end of which is "life and peace".
Let us look into the subject in an orderly manner. Realise first, how prominent in the apostolic scheme of teaching is this subject of the blood of Christ. We can only do this by passing in review quotations from the apostolic writings, which though a tiresome operation to those not wise enough to be interested in the subject, is otherwise with the other class.
We have Christ's own words at the breaking of bread in Matthew 26:28. "This is my blood" he said, in handing the cup to them, "which is shed for many". Then Paul remarks Heb. 10:19: "Having therefore boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way". In
Eph. 2:13: "But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ". Then 1 Peter 1:2: "Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father through sanctification of the spirit and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ". 1 John 1:7: "The blood of Jesus Christ His son cleanseth us from all sin". Heb. 9:12: "Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place". Rev. 1:5: "Unto him that loved us, and hath washed us from our sins in his own blood." Those so referred to are described in chapter 5, verse 9, as singing together: "Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood". Again in chapter 7, verse 14: "These are they that came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb"..
No one can think or say after the reading of these statements that a system of morality or of any kind of wisdom can be Divine that leaves the blood of Christ out of sight, or attaches to it no importance. At the same time there is a possibility of looking too closely at the expression and thinking only of the blood, as some of these extreme sectarians do: "Only the blood for me", say they. What do they mean? We must open our minds to understand. Literally, The blood of Christ which was shed on Calvary would be of no use to them. It trickled down his side; it oozed from his hands and feet; it gushed from the spear gash; and fell on the ground and dried like any other blood, and nobody could find it if they tried, and if they could, it would not be of any spiritual value. It is one of the Roman Catholic superstitions that the real blood of Christ was preserved and caught and bottled. We read in history of one of the kings of England receiving a small phial of the said liquor from the Pope, which set him up wonderfully, and led him to great religious extravagances.
There must be something wrong in such a close, limited, microscopic view. In a literal sense, the blood of Christ was the same blood as our own; as is said: "Forasmuch as the children were partakers of flesh and blood, he himself likewise took part of the same". As such, it could be of no benefit to any human being. It is not the blood as literal blood that is precious or efficacious, but its relation to something of which the blood-shedding is expressive.
If there is anything that proves this conclusively, it is the fact that the same efficacy is associated with the body of Christ in apostolic phraseology. Let us see the evidence of this fact. Look at the 10th chapter of Hebrews, v. 10: "By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of THE BODY of Jesus Christ once for all". Then in Col. 1:21: "And you that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled in THE BODY of his flesh through death". Eph. 2:16: "And that he might reconcile both unto God in one BODY by the cross". 1 Peter 2:24: "Who his own self bare our sins in his own BODY on the tree". -- 1 Cor. 10:16: "The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?" -- And 11:29: "For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning THE LORD'S BODY".
If it was all "the blood" in the way that people talk, there would be no place for this other series of expressions concerning the body of Christ.
And now there is another series of expressions which carries the same modifying consideration with it, forbidding us to confine our thoughts to the blood of Christ, or to think of it as something magical in itself, and showing us a larger thought. The expression I refer to is "Death". Begin with Heb. 9:15: "For this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of DEATH, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance". Here is neither blood nor body, but death. How common is this expression; let us have a few illustrations by way of laying our foundation strongly, deeply, and surely, so as to have a Scriptural conception. All unscriptural conceptions come from taking a part instead of all; it is like looking at a man through a microscope. You see the hills and valleys of half-an-inch of skin, but you do not see the man. That is how some people read the Scriptures. We must broaden out our views so as to take all the elements in, and the result is we see the whole object we may be contemplating. Take, then, a few of these expressions. Heb. 2:9: "But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and
honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man".
Verse 14: "Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same, that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is the devil." Rom. 5:10: "For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life." 1 Cor. 11:26: "For as often as ye eat this bread and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come."
Here are several synonymous expressions that demand some other understanding of the matter than that exhibited in popular preaching. Such an understanding we shall find by the system of the Truth as revived in our age by the instrumentality of Dr. Thomas, supplies, giving us a simple central idea in which these various expressions converge -- "the blood of Christ", "the offering of the body of Christ", "the death of Christ"
Before attempting to exhibit this convergent harmony, let us notice one strong point of contrast between the popular and the Scriptural view. The popular view is that Christ's blood was shed that we might go free on the principle on which a man about to be beheaded has been supposed to go free if some one comes and takes his place. The day of execution arrives, and some strong lover of the doomed man rushes forward in the crowd, and says, "Behead me instead of him". The proposal is accepted; the substitute beheaded, and the other goes free: so Christ's blood is shed, and we go free from our condemnation. Now this cannot be the right view for this remarkable reason, that Christ himself is exhibited to us as coming under the beneficial operation of his own death, thus: Heb. 13:20-- "The God of peace, who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, THROUGH THE BLOOD OF THE EVERLASTING COVENANT". This is stated perhaps still more clearly in Heb. 9:12, in a passage we have already considered, but it has a new bearing here: "Neither by the blood of goats or calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained
eternal redemption for us". You will observe that the two words, "for us", are not in the original. They are added to the translation, and they are added in defiance of grammatical propriety. The verb is in the middle voice, and the meaning of that is remarkable in this connection. We have no middle voice in English: we have passive or active voice: you either do or are done to in English; but in Greek, there is another voice, -- a middle voice -- a state of the verb in which you do a thing to yourself. "Having obtained in himself eternal redemption." In Phil. 2:8 we have the idea more literally expressed -- "He became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him." Orthodox conceptions of this subject leave no room for the idea that Christ was benefited by his own death, and exalted by reason of his submission.
What is the meaning of all this? for as yet we have only been dealing with fragments of the subject. The testimonies submitted create a situation of enquiry, and enable us to open our minds. In pursuing the enquiry, we must remember this, that the death of Christ was preceded by a shadow institution from which much of the phraseology was derived. Under that shadow institution, the sacrifice of Christ took place. To see the beginning and full scope of the thing, we have to note the history as Divinely written, that Abel offered sacrifice at the gates of Eden; Noah offered acceptable sacrifice after the flood. Abraham is frequently exhibited in the same act and attitude, calling on the name of God in connection with the offering of the bodies of slain beasts. The Israelites in Egypt, on the destructive visitation upon the Egyptians, were to be spared, on condition of killing a lamb, and sprinkling the door-posts with its blood. In the law of Moses, we have the blood of bulls and goats all the way through.
In the apostolic writings, we are pointed back and told that all these things were shadows, figures beforehand of what God purposed to accomplish in relation to us in His Son. So we look at the shadow first, and we ask, Why did God require sacrifice to be offered at the hands of those who approached Him? He has given His reason; He never does anything without a reason; and in the Prophets, He often asks Israel to consider His reasons. Sometimes, it is a part of duty
to submit and obey where no reason is given, and even where we do not understand. Yet understanding is at the basis of all His appointments, as it is at the basis of all His works in Nature. And where He gives us a reason, it is ours thankfully and reverently to discern it, that, as He says, we may not be like the horse or the mule which have no understanding.
Look, then, at Lev. 17: here we get something more than a glimmer through a crevice in the dark wall. Verse 11, "For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls (lives): for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul (life)." And verse 14, "For it (the blood) is the life of all flesh ... for the life of all flesh is the blood thereof." Here is life as the leading element of blood employed as a ritual agent.
How does this help us? By connecting it with another Divine principle illustrated at the beginning. Paul gives it to us plainly thus: "The wages of sin is death". The historic illustration of this statement is this: "Because thou hast done this," -- that is, sinned -- that is, disobeyed divine command -- "in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, until thou return unto the ground: for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return". This is death. And now, had God closed the book there, with this sentence of death, the only thing left for us would be to die. But God did not close the book there. He did not leave man to himself. At the very crisis of transgression and condemnation, He provided a shadow institution, by which, notwithstanding his alienated and condemned position, man might approach God acceptably, in hope of the rectification of his position in a far-off day. He appointed that he should lay his hands on the head of an animal, confess his sins, and kill it and take its blood, and offer it to God. The poured out blood was the offered life. It was the ritual recognition and declaration by the worshipper that he was under condemnation, and had no right to his life. He acknowledged this in coming to God in this appointed way: and God was pleased.
Yet Paul says, "The blood of bulls and goats cannot take away sin", while the blood of Christ can. So here is another problem which we enquire into. The problem is this, Why could not the blood of bulls and of goats take away sin, seeing the shedding thereof was apparently as much a confession and abjuration of sin on the part of the offerer as the man who comes to God through the shed blood of Christ? We find the key to this problem in the expression made use of by Paul concerning the death of Christ, in Rom. 3:21-22, "The righteousness of God without the law is manifested in Christ". Verse 25, "Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; to declare, I say, at this time His righteousness that He might be just and the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus". If we ponder this, we shall find it yields a complete explanation. First of all, it places forgiveness in the foreground, "through God's forbearance", which is at variance with the substitutionary idea. The substitutionary idea blots out forgiveness by suggesting that the debt in the case is paid by another. It is not so. God does forgive: this is the most prominent feature in the apostolic proclamation of the Gospel--"Through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins." "Be baptized for the remission of sins." "God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you."
But then forgiveness hath its conditions. God does not offer forgiveness indiscriminately; He does not say He will forgive the sins of the world, whether they take notice of Him or not. Very far from this: He restricts forgiveness to those who fear Him and submit to the conditions He has provided. The question is, What are those conditions? There are various conditions, but we, look not now at subsidiary conditions, but at the one that comes before all others, as brought forward by Paul in the declaration before us -- the propitiatory setting forth of Christ as an object of faith in the shedding of his blood. It is forgiveness that is offered, but not without this, -- not apart from this. But now comes the question, why is the death of Christ
a sufficient foundation for the forgiveness of sin unto life eternal, when the death of animals was not so? We find the answer in the statement that the death of Christ was "to declare the righteousness of God" as the ground of the exercise of His forbearance. That is to say, God maintains His own righteousness and His own supremacy while forgiving us; and exacts the recognition of them and submission to them, as the condition of the exercise of His forbearance in the remission of our sins. Now as we look at Christ, we find in his death the declaration of that righteousness. When we look at the killing of a lamb or of an animal of any kind, it is not a declaration of the righteousness of God that we see except in shadow, in type, in figure: the animal has done no wrong, and in the abstract, there would be wrong and not righteousness in punishing one for the sin of another. The death of Christ was "that God might be just" while acting the part of justifier or forgiver. The sacrifice of animals did not illustrate this, except typically and preliminarily. It did not exhibit the righteousness of God except in the prophetic sense; it was a type of the true exhibition of God's righteousness that God would accomplish in the Lamb of His own providing. "God shall provide Himself a lamb, my son", Abraham said to Isaac, not of course meaning this, but he spoke by the Spirit of God, pointing forward; and when Jesus appeared, John said, "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world".
Now, on Christ we must fix our attention in this character, with the view of being able to see in what way the righteousness of God was declared in the crucifixion of a guileless and sinless and perfect man. We must first of all ask who he was. It is a ready and a Scriptural answer, so far as it goes, to say, he was the Son of God. But he was more than this. His being this alone would not have qualified him for the work of declaring the righteousness of God in being sacrificed. He was likewise the Son of man through birth of a woman. Although he is called the second or last Adam, he was not a new Adam: he was not made fresh from the ground as Adam was. He was not of angelic nature; he was not in any physical sense apart from
us. Born of woman, born of our stock, he is introduced to notice in the very first verse in the apostolic writings, as "the son of David, and the son of Abraham". As Paul says, "the seed of David according to the flesh" (Rom. 1:3), or as in Heb. 2:14, partaker of the same flesh and blood, that through death he might annul, destroy, neutralise, that which is destroying us all.
Now what is that? To see this, we must go back again to Adam in the garden of Eden, and see him condemned to death. The effect of such a sentence upon a creature we see illustrated in Gehazi as he stood before Elisha. "The leprosy of Naaman cleave to thee and to thy seed for ever." That was the sentence, "and he went from his presence a leper as white as snow." The words of Elisha took effect and became leprosy. The word of God to Adam took effect, and made him a death-stricken man; he was not subject to death before, for sin was the door that death came in by. "By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin." "By man came death." "Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return." Not to be killed straightway -- "Thou shalt". God's purpose with man required a slow death, because His purpose was to bring great good out of the evil, and, by two sinners, to bring forth a righteous multitude. Therefore He produced slow death, by establishing a law that would work it out. It is like fixing an alarm clock, the mechanism of which is adjusted .to the time it is required to go off. The Word of God against Adam made him a mortal man with a mortal body. Look at Adam and Eve, mortal; by-and-by, children; what are they? Just the same: they also are mortal. Could a mortal beget an immortal? Mortal means deathful. The word comes from a Latin word, "mors" -- death, and is imported into the English language, but in plain Saxon, it is "deathful". Why deathful? Because of Adam's sin
It is all very simple, and it is all very reasonable. As to the simplicity, the great verities of the universe are all simple. What is simpler than letting fresh air in by a gullet to give us life? Choke up the gullet with a bit of tough beef and where
is your philosopher? Gone as clean as the meanest strangled rat or rabbit. The high-stepping mightinesses of philosophy are absurd. The great facts of God are simple, and it is our business to "receive them as little children".
As to the reasonableness, since God has given us a power of choice, and since this power is capable of being used with great mischief, is it not good and even necessary that God should tell us how to use it? and is it not necessary that His command in this case should be an imperative obligation? Ought not His will to be the supreme law of life? and ought not insubordination to be insufferable? Is it not defensible on every ground that the wages of sin should be death? There is only one answer to all these questions: and that answer brings the heartiest endorsement of the ways of God, and the severest rebuke on the shallow presumption that would criticise and disparage those ways.
"By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin, and so death hath passed upon all men for that all have sinned." Now, how was this state of things to be remedied? There were three ways of mending it. One way was to exterminate the whole human species. But this would have been a poor remedy. It would have been to confess failure; -- that God had set a-going an arrangement on this planet for His glory and could not make it work. This was impossible. God has said that He has not made the earth in vain: that He formed it to be inhabited by the righteous; and that as truly as He lives, it will be wholly filled with His glory yet. The second way would have been what might be called the toleration-of-sin method -- the universal and undiscriminating pity method, by which the wickedness of disobedience should have been ignored, and mankind allowed to occupy the earth immortally for their own pleasure. But this also was impossible. It would have meant God's abdication, and the handing over of man to eternal misery. There was a third way -- a middle way, and that is the way which has been adopted -- namely, to enforce the law against sin, and at the same time leave the door open for mercy to repentant and obedient sinners. How such a method could be made consistent with itself has been exhibited to us in the birth, death, and resurrection of Christ.
He was born that he might die, as the first necessity in the
case; for thus was the righteousness of God to be declared, and sin condemned in its own flesh as the foundation of all the goodness to come afterwards. It may be asked, could not such a result have been achieved by the sacrificial immolation of any sinner? So far as the mere condemnation of sin was concerned, no doubt the lesson could have been thus enforced; but as in all the works of God, there were more objects than one. Not only had sin to be condemned, but resurrection had to come in harmony with the law that made death the wages of sin; and this resurrection was not merely to be a restoration of life, but the providing of an Administrator of the glorious results to be achieved --the raising up of one who should be a mediator between God and man, the dispenser of the forgiveness and the salvation of God through him, and the Judge also of who should be fit to receive these great gifts. All these aims required that the sacrificial victim should be a perfectly righteous man, as well as a possessor of the nature to be sacrificially condemned -- who should do no sin himself, while "made sin" and treated as sin for us; who should be just and holy, obedient in all things, while yet "numbered with the transgressors and making his grave with the wicked".
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