Upon the pronouncement of God, sinners are under His just condemnation. Their guilt is clearly established, and just punishment awaits them. And it is right that they suffer the consequences that is brought to them, for they are worthy to be punished. They ought to be punished. They must stand to be punished, for they have sinned against the Holy and Righteous God.
The banishment to the eternal burning in the lake of fire is the just and proper end that sin has earned. This assignment is more than a mere separation from the joy that is felt by those who are related to God, and it is more than being denied His presence. It is not limited to this lack of fellowship with The Sovereign.
Punishment for sin is just that. It is punishment for sin. It is not the chastening of a Righteous Father, although it is in righteousness that God acts toward those who would not have Him to rule over them in this life. Remember that chastening is directed toward sons, legitimate sons, and never toward those who are not sons.
No basis can be found to suggest that the fires of punishment are intended to be purging in their character. They are indeed fires of punishment. They are so designed, and it is with intent that they inflict punishment. Therefore, we see that the nature of the atonement is punitive.
Because the sin of man is an open and direct affront to the Holy, Righteous nature of God, nothing less than a total and absolute rendering of exact, distinct, and suitable ransom price be paid in order to satisfy the just claim that God demands, and that the sinner rightly owes to Him, which just debt MUST be paid.
Thus, we read, in prophetic language that is undeniable, “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels. My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou hast brought me into the dust of death. For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have enclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet. I may tell all my bones: they look and stare upon me. They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture” (Psalms -18).
And this: “Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:4, 5).
And this also: “Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, and against the man that is my fellow, saith the LORD of hosts: smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered: and I will turn mine hand upon the little ones” (Zechariah 13:7).
And then this as well: “Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification” (Romans ): and, “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all…” (Romans 8:32a).
The punishment that God inflicts is of infinite severity and scope, for the sin against His Holiness is infinite in severity and scope. His Holy justice demands, and rightly so, a punishment that is infinite in severity and scope, and man, who has so grievously sinned against Him is destitute of means as well as will to render such payment. So apart from a Substitute, a Surety to pay what justice demands, must eternally pay, and be punished everlastingly in the lake of fire.
Not only must the atonement meet the requirement that punishment be dispatched, it must also be substitutive in its nature as well. By this I mean that One must atone for the sins of another, since the sinning one is, because of his unworthy nature, disqualified to atone for himself. He cannot redeem himself because sin has rendered his blood to be unsuitable and unacceptable to be offered to a Holy God.
When we look closely at the stipulated requirements that God specifies in Leviticus, chapter 25 concerning the redeeming of possessions and persons, we find this to be so. In this chapter, God makes it very plain and clear that a kinsman ONLY can redeem, and that this kinsman must have suitable ransom price to pay in order to redeem.
It is true that man could be said to be his own kinsman, thus apparently rendering himself as his own redeemer. However, because man is a sinner, his redeeming element, the life, or the blood of himself is in no way acceptable to make atonement for his own soul. His life, as it is seen to be in his blood, is corrupt and evil in its own nature, and will not be suitable as a ransom. And it is sin that has done this. The same sin that brought about the need for man’s redemption has disqualified man from being able to save himself, or another. Man cannot save himself, and a mere man cannot save another. Kinsman ship alone will not enable a man to redeem. There must be kinsman ship, as God has specified. And there must also be suitable price. And since man has no acceptable price to bring, a substitutionary price must be paid if man is ever to go free. Substitution, therefore, is the nature of the atonement.
But substitution that is said to be vicarious is what is demanded by God, and graciously supplied in the Person of Jesus Christ. In order for suffering to be vicarious, it must be suffering that is not only borne in the place of another, but also, and essentially so, in the stead of another.
If one should willingly offer himself to suffer in the place of another, this act would indeed be substitutionary in its nature, but that act would not in and of itself meet the Holy demands that God’s justice requires.
Let me explain what I mean. If one agrees to stand in the place of another, he is agreeing to suffer in behalf of the other, or for his immediate benefit. But if the “stand in” is to be also vicarious, then it must also be done in the stead of the one for whom it is suffered.
Our Substitute or Surety who with full accord with the will of His Father must stand in compliance with the stipulations of the Covenant to which the Godhead have agreed and confirmed in eternity in which the Father hath chosen, and to which the Son agreed (covenanted) to stand as Surety, in their place, room, and stead. This means that in eternity Jesus Christ stood as the Surety for our sins debt (infinite debt) when as yet we had no debt seeing as how at that point we had no sin, nor were we even a being, for we were not yet created.
In time, we having been created, and having sinned in Adam, and in Adam had fallen, became obliged to pay the price of our sin, or have a Surety to whom the charges had already been laid, and to whose account retribution would be demanded and in due time paid who would vicariously and substitionarily stand in our stead.
We had sinned and He stood in our place to be punished and in our stead bore all our quilt and penalty and clothed us in His righteous robe and will present us to the Father, spotless.
Now also, we see that the atonement must be expiatory in its nature. The atonement, in order to be effective must expiate sin. It must provide whatever is necessary that sins be dealt with, both in guilt and in removal and restoration to a previously held state of perfectness, as at creation.
The spot and stain of sin must be done away. Else, there will remain the odiousness of it. The sinner must be cleansed from all semblance of sin. It must be put away, or it will most surely remain.
Remembering that man is actually a “double-dyed” sinner, he must be fully cleansed before he can stand in the presence of God. He cannot even approach God so long as there remains any trace or evidence of sin ever having contaminated him.
By “double-dyed”, we mean that
man sinned in Adam, and then sinned
in himself. He is guilty of original sin that has condemned Adam and
seed. He is also guilty of the sins that he has committed in himself,
his departure from the womb of his mother (c.f.
The fiber of man is stained and dyed by original sin. The fabric of man is dyed afresh as man goes forth as a sinning sinner. Both in warp and woof, man is a desperately wicked sinner. And he must be completely cleansed, or else his sin remains.
This awful condition makes it clear that in order for man to be justified with God, his guilt must be removed and he must also be restored to the state of moral perfectness that Adam enjoyed from the Hand of his Creator, and until sin ruined him. Both removal and restoration therefore must be accomplished.
Expiation must take place, and only Christ in His willing substitution of Himself in the stead of His guilty people can insure that this circumstance takes place. “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in” (II Corinthians ).
Since sin must be expiated by rendering of suitable and exact ransom price, and since man, because of his utterly depraved nature that has left him totally destitute of the means and will to pay that he owes, stands helpless before his creditor to whom he owes the debt. He is hopelessly unable to satisfy his obligation, and therefore found worthy to be eternally punished for his sin(s) that he has willfully committed against the Holy God.
But Christ, in His suffering that was both vicarious and substitutionary in its nature has fully and totally expiated the sin of those He stood Surety, as a Lamb slain in their room and stead. He has completely and everlastingly removed their sins from them as far as the east is from the west and they are forever gone, never to be remembered against them, forever.
Expiation is the work that Christ, in His suffering accomplished and has reference to the work which accrued manward. It is what He has done for us. It is His gracious work of taking our sin upon Himself and removing it from us.
Then too, the atonement must be propitiatory in its nature. It must produce and provide satisfaction unto a Holy God, Who has been sinned against. For if God is not propitiated, then sin still remains. And were this to be the case, then sinners would still remain under the condemnation, and God’s wrath would still be upon them. God must be propitiated (satisfied), and when He is satisfied, then those sinners who have satisfied Him must go free.
Please take note of this last statement above. When sinners have satisfied God, then they go free! But sinners do not and can not satisfy God with their evil, corrupt, and imperfect offerings. However, Christ can and does satisfy God in their stead. Thus, it is clear that the elect sinner satisfies God. Not in himself, but in Christ. That is where satisfaction is found, and no place else. It is in Christ Jesus that sinners satisfy God.
Now when this glorious satisfaction is done, they go free! They go free! They MUST go free, for satisfaction has been made. When satisfaction is made, it is unthinkable that those for whom satisfaction has been made will remain as slaves to sin and Satan. They have been freed by the Stronger than the strong man, thus, they go free.
The atonement is, and must of necessity be a work that is federal in its essential nature. There must be and must have been a connection between the persons who required that satisfaction, or atonement be made and the Person who stood from eternity as the Effectuator of the needful satisfaction. There must be a federal connection between Jesus Christ and all those, each and every one of those, that He willingly and graciously represented.
When the Scriptures speak of a
covenant people, they speak of a
union, indeed a covenant union between God and a people. For example,
of a people that are viewed as a people that are seen as in Christ, as
Clearly the seed of Abraham is
Christ, just as surely as “the
seed of the woman”, in
This covenant union, this oneness with Christ, is a union of legal requirement and it surely bears legal consequence. When Christ covenanted to stand for and in the stead of His covenant people, He covenanted to not only legally bear their sin and the required vicarious suffering, but to die as the result of His Suretyship to do so.
William Shedd, writing in about
1889-90 said, in this matter: “When,
in the Old Testament, the elect are spoken of as the party with whom
a covenant, they are viewed as in Christ and one with Him. The covenant
with them as alone and apart from Christ. This is taught in
And James Haldane, in his work, Doctrine of the Atonement wrote this: “Christ is not only the Substitute but the Surety of His people. The Gospel is founded on the fact that Adam and Christ are covenant heads and representatives of their respective families. Hence, they are termed ‘the first man’ and ‘the second man’ (I Corinthians ), as if there had been none other but themselves, for the children of each were entirely dependent on their head. In Adam all die; in Christ all are made alive (I Corinthians ). The first all includes every individual of mankind, the last all is explained by the apostle to mean ‘they that are Christ’s’.”
So, in summation of all this, we conclude that the federal nature of the atonement, or satisfaction that God’s Holy nature demands, and that He, in the Second Person of the Holy Trinity provides is as much a necessity as all the other of His Holy demands and gracious provisions.
What is the nature of the atonement? The atonement is punitive (penal) in its nature. The atonement is substitutive in its nature. The atonement is expiatory in its nature. The atonement is propitiatory in its nature. And the atonement is federal in its nature. All the elements express what the atonement is, and what it was designed and intended to accomplish as God purposed eternally.
What is the nature of the atonement? The nature of the atonement is displayed in that of an atonement the actually and completely atones. It is able to do exactly what God intended for it to do. It atones, or fully satisfies each and every righteous demand that His Holy nature requires. Success is assured because the atonement or covering, or Mercy Seat is provided. He, Jesus Christ becomes our Mercy Seat, and He has truly made atonement for His people. Praise God, we have an Atonement that atones.
(The Baptist Herald - July, 1990)
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