Salvation and Atonement: Part 1

 •  18 min. read  •  grade level: 7
We are all learners, if indeed we have a teachable spirit, and any progress in the knowledge of what the word of God contains is only an approximation to a fuller comprehension of the truth, which was taught by the apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ. More than what was then taught we cannot look to know. All progress in the apprehension of truth since their day is only a recovery in measure, of what was then set forth. For all the truth that we have, we are indebted of course to God's grace; and how has grace been manifested in recovering for the saints truth after truth during the past three hundred years! Bearing then in mind it is wholly of grace that truth forgotten has been in any measure recovered, none of us have anything to boast of. So if one sees any mistake in the teaching of another, or a want of clearness in the apprehension of parts of divine revelation, it becomes us, as we point such out, to remember in what darkness and ignorance we were formerly ourselves. It is in this spirit that we would comment on some statements in the Pietisten," by Dr. Waldenström, for September, 1881.
To be saved, to be redeemed, to be reconciled (Swedish försonas), he writes, all mean the same thing seen from different sides. Salvation actually is man's försoning with God. (§ 710.) "Against all such wrong ideas the scripture teaches us that no change took place in God's disposition towards man consequent on man's sin; that it was therefore not God that needed to be reconciled (försonas) to man, but man that needed to be reconciled to God, and that as a result thereof the atonement (försinengen), or reconciliation is a work that starts from God, and is directed towards man, and has for its object, not to appease Him, but to cleanse man from sin, and place him again in a right relationship to God." (§ 716.)
Now in treating of truth it is important to get a clear understanding of the meaning of scripture terms, To "save," "redeem," "reconcile," all describe acts on the part of God towards, or for man. The “Savior," the "Redeemer," the "Reconciler" is God, or the Lord Jesus Christ. The "saved," the "redeemed," the "reconciled," are men. But these terms do not convey the same meaning. Lost ones are saved. (Luke 19:1010For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost. (Luke 19:10).) Enemies are reconciled. (Rom. 5:1010For 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. (Romans 5:10).) Those needing a ransom by blood are redeemed (Eph. 1:77In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace; (Ephesians 1:7)), whilst awaiting the redemption of their bodies in the future.
Of salvation we read that it is deliverance from God's wrath, which has not yet been poured out, (Rom. 5:99Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. (Romans 5:9); 1 Thess. 1:1010And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come. (1 Thessalonians 1:10).) It is of grace through faith, and the gift of God. (Eph. 2:5-8.) It is offered to all who enter in by Christ the door (John 10:99I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture. (John 10:9)), and by Him only. (Acts 4:1212Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved. (Acts 4:12).) It is for sinners, for the lost who are dead in trespasses and sins (1 Tim. 1:1515This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief. (1 Timothy 1:15); Luke 15; 19:10; Eph. 2), who receive the word of salvation (Acts 13:2626Men and brethren, children of the stock of Abraham, and whosoever among you feareth God, to you is the word of this salvation sent. (Acts 13:26); 1 Cor. 15:22By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:2); Acts 11:1414Who shall tell thee words, whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved. (Acts 11:14); 1 Thess. 2:1616Forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved, to fill up their sins alway: for the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost. (1 Thessalonians 2:16)), believing on the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 16:3131And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. (Acts 16:31); 1 Cor. 1:2121For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. (1 Corinthians 1:21)), and call on the name of the Lord (Acts 2:2121And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved. (Acts 2:21); Rom. 10:9-139That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. 10For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. 11For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. 12For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. 13For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. (Romans 10:9‑13).) Thus believing they have the salvation now of their souls (1 Peter 1:99Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:9)), whilst awaiting full deliverance, which is ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:55Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:5).) All, then, having been done which God required for Him righteously to save ungodly ones who believe on His Son, the salvation being ready to be revealed we wait for it. So we are saved in hope (Rom. 8:2424For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? (Romans 8:24)), and shall be saved, that is, be brought through all troubles by the power of Christ's life, ἐν τῇ ξωῇ αὐτοῦ. (Rom. 5:1010For 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. (Romans 5:10).) Meanwhile, we are to grow by the word unto salvation. (1 Peter 2:22As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby: (1 Peter 2:2).) God, then, has come out to us in the character of Savior (1 Tim.; Titus), the Lord Jesus Christ being Himself our Savior, and what is offered to all who will hear it is the salvation of God. (Acts 28:2828Be it known therefore unto you, that the salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles, and that they will hear it. (Acts 28:28).)
Of reconciliation we learn that it had for its object to remove the enmity of man's heart to God. God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them. But when men, instead of being reconciled, crucified His Son, God raised up a ministry of reconciliation, and provided the message to draw alienated hearts to Himself. (2 Cor. 5:18-2118And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; 19To 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. 20Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God. 21For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. (2 Corinthians 5:18‑21).) This act on the part of God has not been without effect. Some have been reconciled to Him, and that by the death of His Son. (Rom. 5:1010For 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. (Romans 5:10); Col. 1:21,2221And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled 22In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight: (Colossians 1:21‑22).)
By redemption, as treated of in the New Testament, we are reminded of a ransom, in virtue of which those who benefit by it have entered on a change of condition, being redeemed by the blood of Christ. A drowning man, pulled out of the water, would be a saved man; a slave set free from slavery by a ransom would be a redeemed one. Salvation reminds us of a change of state, and recalls to us from what we are delivered. Reconciliation speaks of a change of feeling in man's heart towards God. Sometime enemies, by wicked works, but now reconciled to and by God in the body of Christ's flesh through death. To be saved, to be reconciled, to be redeemed are then far from meaning the same thing, though equally applying to believers who share in that of which they speak. Nor can it be admitted that salvation is man's försoning with God; for salvation and reconciliation are quite distinct- a change of state and a change of feeling are not at all the same, though man is the subject of both.
But försoning is also the Swedish term for atonement, and for propitiation. Now salvation, atonement, and propitiation are to be distinguished. Of salvation man is the subject, his welfare is the object. In atonement, God's holiness and righteousness, as well as the sinner's need, that he may stand in acceptance before the throne, are all fully cared for. This is plainly declared in the Old Testament. Salvation was known by Israel before the question of atonement was brought before them. "Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord," was the word of Moses to Israel on the western shore of the Red Sea. (Ex. 14:1313And Moses said unto the people, Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will show to you to day: for the Egyptians whom ye have seen to day, ye shall see them again no more for ever. (Exodus 14:13).) They learned what that salvation was when they stood on the opposite coast. " The Lord is my strength and my song, and he is become my salvation," were the words of Moses and of the children of Israel on that eventful morning, as they saw the—Egyptians dead upon the sea shore. (Ex. 15:22The Lord is my strength and song, and he is become my salvation: he is my God, and I will prepare him an habitation; my father's God, and I will exalt him. (Exodus 15:2).) " The Lord," we read, "saved Israel that day out of the hand of the Egyptians." (Ex. 14:3030Thus the Lord saved Israel that day out of the hand of the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead upon the sea shore. (Exodus 14:30).) Then, for the first time, was God's salvation to them displayed and known. But atonement was not spoken of till they reached Sinai. (Ex. 29:3636And thou shalt offer every day a bullock for a sin offering for atonement: and thou shalt cleanse the altar, when thou hast made an atonement for it, and thou shalt anoint it, to sanctify it. (Exodus 29:36).) God first told them of salvation (Ex. 14:1313And Moses said unto the people, Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will show to you to day: for the Egyptians whom ye have seen to day, ye shall see them again no more for ever. (Exodus 14:13)), as He had of redemption. (Ex. 6:66Wherefore say unto the children of Israel, I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will rid you out of their bondage, and I will redeem you with a stretched out arm, and with great judgments: (Exodus 6:6).) God, too, first taught them the need of atonement; and He who spoke of these things, in His grace provided them all; and in the way that He spoke of them, and gave His people to participate in the results of them, He made it very plain how different they were.
For atonement by blood an altar is wanted, and a sanctuary, and a high priest to make it. No priesthood was needed, either for salvation or redemption to be enjoyed by the earthly people. For atonement to be made it was otherwise, for that involves both propitiation and substitution, integral parts of atonement, as Lev. 16 sets forth. In no sense, then, is salvation man's forsoning with God. The försoning is the result of it. Salvation, too, is widely different from reconciliation. It is clearly distinguished in the word, as we have seen, from atonement, and hence from propitiation. In truth, atonement is needed for us to enjoy salvation.
But what are we to understand by atonement? some may inquire. Let scripture provide us with the answer. In the New Testament the term does not really occur. In the Old it is frequently to be met with; a reason for this it is not difficult to discern. The term is really a complex one, embracing more than one idea, namely, the death of the victim, propitiation by blood, sin-bearing, and the enduring the judgment of God. These, all comprised under the one term כִּפֶּרִים in the Old Testament, are spoken of as distinct truths in the New Testament. (John 3:14,1514And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: 15That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3:14‑15); 1 John 4:10;2:210Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:10)
2And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:2)
; Heb. 2:17; 9:2817Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. (Hebrews 2:17)
28So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation. (Hebrews 9:28)
; Rom. 4:2525Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification. (Romans 4:25); 1 Peter 2:24;3:1824Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed. (1 Peter 2:24)
18For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: (1 Peter 3:18)
.) By salvation deliverance is effected. By atonement the question of guilt and the dealing with sins is settled with God. Salvation tells us of the love and power exercised towards those who are the subjects of it. Atonement reminds us of propitiation made by blood to meet and maintain the holiness and righteousness of God, that He might be just, and the justifier of ungodly ones who are of the faith of Jesus. Also it tells us of the sins of guilty ones carried away never to come back, and of divine judgment borne by a sinless victim on their behalf and in their stead. In this work the guilty ones who profit by it have no actual part. It has been done by the High Priest for them. And since the Lord Jesus Christ has risen, we can say, it is all settled between God and Him for all those who believe on Him.
Very plain, then, it is that in no sense, we must repeat it, is salvation man's forsoning with God. It is important to be clear on this; and till the difference between salvation, reconciliation, redemption, and atonement is perceived, the teaching on such subjects cannot be clear. Nor whilst the same term forsonas is used for reconciliation, propitiation, and atonement, will the truth be made plain.
It is true God did not need to be reconciled to man, but man to God; yet, had there been no atonement provided by God, there would have been no reconciliation by the death of His Son. It is likewise true that no change took place in God's heart towards man consequent on the fall, but God's ways with man did necessarily change. He drove him out of paradise, and man could never afterward approach Him acceptably except on the ground of sacrifice. Death must take place ere a guilty creature can draw nigh to God to be accepted by Him. But more than death is wanted for that; and this God delineated in type, and made good by the sacrifice of His Son. Hence the institution of sacrifice by God, which witnessed that no change had taken place in His love toward man, though His ways with man had changed, because, though unchangeable in love, He is equally unchangeable in holiness. It is true, too, that atonement had not for its object to appease God, nevertheless, it was absolutely requisite ere God could receive in righteousness fallen creatures before Him If atonement, then, was called for, propitiation and substitution, which are integral parts of it, were clearly needed. So whilst salvation, reconciliation, and redemption tell of the activity of God in love to sinners, none of them, nor all of them together, can provide the ground on which He can be manifested as righteous in justifying ungodly ones without compromising one iota of His holiness. Atonement alone provides this. All that He is, as holy and righteous, is fully met by the blood on the mercy-seat, and the sins of His people having been laid on the head of the Substitute and carried away, God can righteously proclaim full forgiveness of them all.
God's wrath rests on the unbeliever. (John 3:3636He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him. (John 3:36).) We were all by nature children of wrath (Eph. 2:33Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others. (Ephesians 2:3)), and God's wrath is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who hold the truth in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:1818For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; (Romans 1:18)); and it will be poured out in a day that is surely coming- the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God. (Rom. 2:55But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God; (Romans 2:5).) That we all deserved it is true. How, then, can any escape it? How can we escape? Who shall answer that question but God? That a guilty creature needs forgiveness we can all understand. And through the death of the Lord Jesus Christ, the true sin-offering that is provided, as He Himself declared on the day He rose from the dead. (Luke 24:4747And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. (Luke 24:47).) But that is not all. Cleansing the sinner was not all that was requisite. God's wrath was righteously deserved. How could that be stayed? God's holiness, too, required to be maintained. Let us see what scripture can teach us on these two heads.
And first as to a sacrifice restraining the just outflow of divine wrath. Comparatively early in the world's history did God teach that. Before the law was given He had Himself declared it, when He addressed Eliphaz, Job's friend, as recorded in Job 42:7,87And it was so, that after the Lord had spoken these words unto Job, the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite, My wrath is kindled against thee, and against thy two friends: for ye have not spoken of me the thing that is right, as my servant Job hath. 8Therefore take unto you now seven bullocks and seven rams, and go to my servant Job, and offer up for yourselves a burnt offering; and my servant Job shall pray for you: for him will I accept: lest I deal with you after your folly, in that ye have not spoken of me the thing which is right, like my servant Job. (Job 42:7‑8). We quote the passage, "And it was so that after the Lord had spoken these words unto Job, the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite, My wrath is kindled against thee, and against thy two friends; for ye have not spoken of me the thing that is right as my servant Job hath. Therefore, take unto you now seven bullocks and seven rams, and go to my servant Job, and offer for yourselves a burnt-offering, and my servant Job shall pray for you, for him will I accept, lest I deal with you after your folly, in that ye have not spoken of me the thing which is right, like my servant, Job." The need and the efficacy of a sacrifice to turn aside the wrath of God is here plainly stated. Death must take place for that to be effected; and the offering was by God's appointment to be a burnt-offering, which, as we learn by the law subsequently given, could not be offered apart from the thought of atonement. (Lev. 1:44And he shall put his hand upon the head of the burnt offering; and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him. (Leviticus 1:4).) It is not here the cleansing of a sinner from his sins that is spoken of, but the turning aside of divine wrath from the proper objects of it, wrath already kindled, but which was stayed. For Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar did as the Lord commanded them, and the Lord accepted Job. We know of what those sacrifices were types. The death of the Lord Jesus Christ, then, was really required for God to act in grace and mercy to Job's three friends. In truth none of us can rightly measure the guilt of sin, and really understand, unless taught of God, what is wanted to meet His holiness and to maintain, unsullied, His righteousness. A sacrifice then can shield a person from wrath, and it is requisite for that purpose. It can also arrest the further outflow of divine vengeance, as David learned at the threshing-floor of Araunah the Jebusite. The Lord in mercy had arrested the arm of the destroying angel uplifted to smite Jerusalem; but the angel's sword was sheathed only when the offerings had been offered on the altar erected by David that day. (2 Sam. 24:2525And David built there an altar unto the Lord, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings. So the Lord was entreated for the land, and the plague was stayed from Israel. (2 Samuel 24:25); 1 Chron. 21:26,2726And David built there an altar unto the Lord, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings, and called upon the Lord; and he answered him from heaven by fire upon the altar of burnt offering. 27And the Lord commanded the angel; and he put up his sword again into the sheath thereof. (1 Chronicles 21:26‑27))
Further, on the ground of sacrifice, God's way of dealing with His fallen guilty creatures can righteously change. The story of Noah's burnt offering illustrates this. The flood had swept away the old world, leaving only those alive who had been preserved through it in the ark. Still man was not changed. He was not improved. So as far as he was concerned, if it was righteous to cut off men by the flood, it would have been equally righteous to have dealt in judgment still. There was nothing in man which could plead for grace, or claim a blessing from the Creator. The Lord tells us, most plainly, what He saw man to be after the flood (Gen. 8:2121And the Lord smelled a sweet savor; and the Lord said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man's sake; for the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done. (Genesis 8:21))- morally no better than he was before it. How ingrained is the taint of the fall! The flesh is unchanged and unchangeable. Yet God could do, and did by virtue of the burnt offering, what He had never done, that we read of, since the fall; He blessed His fallen creatures, and blessed them as regards earth in one way more fully than He had blessed Adam in innocence, in that He gave them everything on earth for food, which He had never done before.
But more. As in the case of Job's friends, so in that of Eli's house, we are reminded that sacrifice is indispensable for divine judgment to be averted. "I have told him," said the Lord to Samuel, "that I will judge his house forever for the iniquity which he knoweth; because his sons made themselves vile, and he restrained them not. And therefore have I sworn unto the house of Eli, that the iniquity of Eli's house shall not be purged with sacrifice nor offering forever." (1 Sam. 3:13,1413For I have told him that I will judge his house for ever for the iniquity which he knoweth; because his sons made themselves vile, and he restrained them not. 14And therefore I have sworn unto the house of Eli, that the iniquity of Eli's house shall not be purged with sacrifice nor offering for ever. (1 Samuel 3:13‑14).) That guilt should not be purged, לאיחְכַּפֵך or atoned for, by sacrifice forever. Nothing else can deal with the question of guilt, and avert the deserved judgment. Job's friends profited by the sacrifice. Eli's sons could not. But in both cases we learn that it is by sacrifice that divine judgment is averted. God's wrath must be averted. For that atonement is requisite. It is love which provides the sacrifice. It is holiness and righteousness which demand it. Atonement is needed.
What then shall we say to such a statement as the following; "There is not a single passage in the Bible which sets forth the forsoning as having its ground in this, that God's righteousness needed a vindication." (§ 720.) It is true "we must allow our heavenly Father to be as good as He says He is" (§ 719); but we must also allow that He is holy as He says He is. "I am holy," is His own word. Scripture has plainly taught us that His wrath can be stayed from breaking forth against those who deserve it, if the appointed sacrifice is offered up. We have also seen that the remainder of wrath can be restrained by virtue of sacrifice; and further that God can bless sinful creatures on that same ground. What, too, kept the destroying angel from entering the houses of the Israelites? The blood on the door-posts, the witness that life had been given up. "When I see the blood I will pass over you." God was dealing in judgment, and every house not sheltered by the blood would be visited by the angel of death. Yet those cut off were not really worse than the first-born of the Israelites who were spared. The blood on the door-posts proclaimed that there was no difference morally between them. But being there the angel was kept out. Jehovah passed over that house. It was love surely that provided the way of escape, but only in perfect consistency with God's righteousness. The love was seen in appointing a way of escape, and in telling the Israelites about it. Righteousness was displayed both in visiting each house that was not thus protected, and in shielding each family from the loss of their firstborn, who had, in faith in the divine word, put the blood on the door-post outside. Thus God's righteousness was seen displayed in a somewhat similar manner to that of which Rom. 3 speaks. He is righteous in taking vengeance (ver. 5) as He did that night. He is righteous in sheltering from it all who make use of the divinely appointed way of escape. The teaching of scripture is clearly opposed to the statement of Dr. Waldenstrom, which we have quoted above.
One more instance will suffice. We read in Numbers 9:1313But the man that is clean, and is not in a journey, and forbeareth to keep the passover, even the same soul shall be cut off from among his people: because he brought not the offering of the Lord in his appointed season, that man shall bear his sin. (Numbers 9:13), where the observance of the passover is made incumbent on all the people, that " the man that is clean, and is not in a journey, and forbeareth to keep the passover, even the same soul shall be cut off from among his people: because he brought not the offering of the Lord in his appointed season, that man shall bear his sin."If he duly kept the passover it would be well with him, in that case he would bring the offering of the Lord. If on the other hand he did not keep it, he would be amenable to divine judgment. He did not keep the passover because he had sinned. Yet by keeping it he would be saved from the threatened judgment, a judgment he would undoubtedly deserve, if he brought not the offering of the Lord. Now if cut off, would it have been the activity of divine love which did it, or would it have been an act of God in righteousness? Was it love that demanded the transgressor's death, or righteousness? It was love which warned him of his danger, that righteousness should not have to be vindicated by dealing with him in judgment. God then may have to act in righteousness, and deal with people in judgment.
(To be continued, the Lord willing.) C. E. S.