Simple Christian Truths: the Work of Christ

 •  15 min. read  •  grade level: 11
The person and work of Christ are inseparable, for -as we saw in the last paper- the efficacy of His work is derived from the character of His person; that is, in simple language, no other but He who was both God and Man, who was the image of the invisible God, the Word who was God, and who yet became flesh and dwelt among us, could have made atonement for sin in His death upon the cross. The truth concerning these two things lies at the very foundation of Christianity, and neither therefore could be surrendered without departing from the faith once delivered to the saints.
By the work of Christ, it should be observed, is meant especially what He accomplished on Calvary. The will of God, which He came to do (Heb. 10), would perhaps embrace the whole of His life, as well as His death; but, as that chapter itself shows, it has reference chiefly to His death, as is seen from the words, "By the which will we are sanctified, through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once." In like manner the apostle Paul alludes to His death, when he speaks of the "one righteousness" which is towards all men for justification of life. (Rom. 5:1818Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. (Romans 5:18), New Translation)
We propose therefore, in this paper, to inquire briefly into the nature of the work of Christ through His death -a work which is often expressed by the one word atonement; * and if we turn to the sacrificial ceremonies of the great day of atonement, we shall find the materials necessary for our investigation. There are three points to which the reader's attention may be directed. The first is, burning the incense inside the veil before the mercy-seat. After the details are given concerning the sacrifices to be offered, and after the sacrifice was killed, it was said of Aaron, that "he shall take a censer full of burning coals of fire from off the altar before the Lord, and his hands full of sweet incense beaten small, and bring it within the veil: and he shall put the incense upon the fire before the Lord, that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy-seat that is upon the testimony, that he die not." (Lev. 16:12,1312And he shall take a censer full of burning coals of fire from off the altar before the Lord, and his hands full of sweet incense beaten small, and bring it within the vail: 13And he shall put the incense upon the fire before the Lord, that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy seat that is upon the testimony, that he die not: (Leviticus 16:12‑13)) This was the first transaction inside the veil on this eventful day. Aaron had washed himself in water, and put on the holy linen garments, that he might be a type (only a type) of the spotless holiness of Christ. The sin-offering had been killed, death had been brought in upon the victim, the blood which was to make propitiation had been shed; but the first and foremost thing enjoined, before the blood could be dealt with or sprinkled, was, that Aaron should burn the fragrant incense before the Lord in the holiest. The incense sets forth the acceptability of Christ Himself to God; the sweet fragrance of His graces, excellencies, and perfections-a truth 'not ill-embodied in the lines―
"The merits of the Lord appear,
They fill the holy place."
(* It may be helpful to some readers if it is explained that the word atonement does not occur in the New Testament Scriptures. It is found in the English Translation in Rom. 5:1111And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement. (Romans 5:11), but it is wrongly given for the word reconciliation. In Heb. 2:1717Wherefore 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) reconciliation should be propitiation. This double mistake is remarkable, and perhaps significant.)
This will explain to the reader what has already been observed-the indissoluble connection between the person and the work of Christ. Aaron pauses as it were in the midst of his preparation for his sacrificial service, and enters first of all into the holiest with his censer of burning coals of fire from off the altar before the Lord to burn incense; teaching that the graces, the perfections of Christ, tested by the holy fire, by the absolute standard of God's holiness, emitted a cloud of, perfume which covered the mercy-seat ―the dwelling-place of Jehovah. It is, we repeat, the infinite acceptability of Christ Himself―the acceptability proved by the application of the holy fire. It therefore tells us of God's delight in what Christ was in Himself; not so much God's delight in His beloved Son, as expressed at His baptism and on the mount of transfiguration, but 'rather His unmeasured complacency in Christ as Man -in Him who had devoted Himself to death, and to death' in the place of sin, and for sin, for the glory of His God. Though not the burnt-offering―for that was presented on the brazen altar -yet, in one aspect like it, the incense, when placed upon the burning coals, ascended as a sweet savor unto the Lord.
The next thing was dealing with the blood of the sacrifice. The reader will observe that Aaron was to offer a bullock as the sin-offering to make an atonement for himself and for his house. (v. 6); but for the congregation of the children of Israel two goats were appointed-one of which (that on which the Lord's lot fell) was to be killed as a sin-offering, and the other was to be the scapegoat. (vv. 8-10) It is with the goats that we are concerned in this paper; for while the bullock speaks of Christ equally with the two goats, it is in these latter God has been pleased to show forth the two aspects of the death of Christ. The blood of the bullock was dealt with in the same way as that of the goat of the sin-offering, both alike being sprinkled once on and seven times before the mercy-seat. (vv. 14, 15) The blood on the mercy-seat was manifestly for God, for the mercy-seat was God's throne in the midst of Israel. (Psa. 80:11<<To the chief Musician upon Shoshannim-eduth, A Psalm of Asaph.>> Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, thou that leadest Joseph like a flock; thou that dwellest between the cherubims, shine forth. (Psalm 80:1), &c) That before the mercy-seat was for him that approached-the high priest, in this case-as representing the congregation, and here seven times as a perfect testimony's to the efficacy of the sacrifice, while, once was enough for the eye of God. What then did this blood represent? It was the blood of the sin-offering, type of the precious blood of who was made sin in His death on the cross, of Him whose soul-according to the language of the prophet (Isa. 53:1010Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. (Isaiah 53:10))-was made an offering for sin. Hence the apostle Paul writes, "Whom God hath set forth a propitiation [a mercy-seat] through faith in His blood." (Rom. 3: 25)
In order then to apprehend the true significance of this blood-sprinkling, it must again be carefully remembered that it was inside the veil-in the holiest of all -and on the mercy-seat, where the eye of God alone rested, and that the mercy-seat was His throne. Two things follow. First, that it was for God; and, secondly, that it appeased, answered, according to the nature of Him that sat thereon, the claims of His throne in the midst of Israel. But inasmuch as the holiest was but the pattern (as all the tabernacle), and therefore the anti-type of heavenly things (see Heb. 9: 10), we learn from this sprinkling of the blood on the mercy-seat, on the day of atonement, what the blood of Christ was for God. As another has written: "The perfect death of Jesus -His blood put on the throne of God- has established and brought into evidence all that God is, all His glory, as no creation could have done it. His truth (for He had passed sentence of death) is made good in the highest way in Jesus; His majesty, for His Son submits to all for His glory; His justice against sin; His infinite love. God found means therein to accomplish His 'counsels of grace, in maintaining all the majesty of His justice, and of His divine dignity; for what like the death of Jesus could have glorified them?" This blood-sprinkling on the mercy-seat constituted the propitiation, because it was for God in reference to the claims of His holiness upon men as sinners. Being thus for God, there is no question of application to sinners, though it is the glorious and righteous basis on which God can act in grace, and save every one who receives His testimony respecting it, on which He can be both just and the Justifier of all who believe in Jesus. (Rom. 3:24-2624Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: 25Whom 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; 26To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. (Romans 3:24‑26)) It is this aspect of the death. of Christ-the propitiation made through His blood-that has glorified God completely in relation to all that He is, whether as regards His holiness, His truth, His majesty, His righteousness, or, His love. Were no sinner ever saved, God would yet have been infinitely glorified by the death of His Son, in the propitiation He has made by His precious blood; for all His claims as a holy God, all the claims of His holy government, have been publicly vindicated in the face of the universe. But, blessed be His name, not only has peace-the peace of God's throne-been made by the blood of His cross, but streams of blessing also have flowed out therefrom, ever increasing in volume, from the day when the malefactor went from his gibbet to be with Christ in paradise until now; and they will flow onward until the last saint is gathered in, whether in this or the coming dispensation.
"Blest Lamb of God, thy precious blood
Shall never lose its power,
Till every ransomed saint of God
Be saved to sin no more."
If we now consider the scapegoat, we shall have before us another aspect of the work of Christ: "And Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat, and shall send him away by the hand of a fit man into the wilderness: and the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities into a land not inhabited: and he shall let, go the goat in the wilderness." (vv. 21, 22) If the blood on the mercy-seat made propitiation, the putting the sin of Israel upon the live goat sets forth the truth of substitution.* Thus, as another has well expressed it, " is evident that, though the scapegoat was sent away alive, he was identified as to the efficacy of the work with the death of the other. The idea of the eternal sending away of sins out of remembrance is only added to the thought of death. The glory of God was established, on one side, in the putting of blood on the mercy-seat; and, on the other, there was the substitution of the scapegoat -of the Lord Jesus― in His precious grace for the guilty persons whose cause He had undertaken; and the, sins of these having been borne, their deliverance was full, entire, and final. The first goat was Jehovah's lot, it was a question of His character and majesty; the other was the lot of the people, which definitively represented the people in their sins."
(* By substitution is meant that the Lord Jesus died in the room and stead of His people-that He took their place, bore their sins, and endured on the cross the just judgment of God -all that was due to them on account of their sins.)
These two aspects are found in the epistle to the Romans. At the end of chapter 3, as already pointed out, we have Christ set forth as a propitiation through faith in His blood (v. 25), and in chapter 4 we read: " Who was delivered for our offenses, and was raised again for our justification," where the being delivered for our offenses is clearly substitution, answering to the putting of Israel's sins on the head of the scapegoat. But substitution involves the application of the efficacy of the work of Christ, and is therefore limited to believers. This is indeed seen in the ceremony connected with the scapegoat. Aaron laid his hands upon its head, and in that attitude confessed over it all the iniquities of Israel. Laying his hands on its head expressed identification with the goat, and the transference, through confession, of the transgressions and sins of the people to the goat, and the goat consequently bore away their sins into the, wilderness. Now none but believers are identified with the sacrifice of Christ. It is only when they first came to Christ, having received God's testimony concerning His beloved Son, and confessed their sins, that they were brought under all the value of His work, and learned that all their sins were put away forever. And if we refer to a few scriptures where the truth of substitution is found, it will be clear, beyond question, that it is limited to believers.
"He was wounded," says the prophet, "for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed." (Isa. 53:55But 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 53:5)) Such is the language which the Spirit of God has provided, through the prophet, for converted Israel of a later day; for the reader will observe that without faith it would not be possible to say, "He was wounded for our transgressions," or that "with His stripes we are healed." In like manner, when the apostle Peter writes, "Who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree" (1 Peter 2:2424Who 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)), he expresses the faith of himself and of his fellow-believers to whom he was writing, for he adds, "that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness."
There is another class of scriptures, as the point is important, to which we will briefly refer. Whenever the death of the Lord is looked at in its substitutional aspect, it is limited to His people. Speaking Himself He says, "The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for [ἀντὶ] many," the many, as shown by the preceding preposition, being a special class; i.e., His people. In the epistle to the Hebrews we also read that Christ was once offered to, bear the sins of many (chap. 9. 28), not of all, because the truth of substitution is again in view. On the other hand, when it says that Christ died for all, as in 2 Cor. 5:1414For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: (2 Corinthians 5:14), or that He gave Himself for all, as in 1 Tim. 2:66Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time. (1 Timothy 2:6), the thought of substitution is excluded, and carefully excluded, by the language employed. Both things are blessedly true of the death of Christ-He died for all, by the grace of God He tasted death for every man -but, according to the teaching of scripture, only believers are entitled to say that He bore their sins in His death upon the cross, for this involves, as before pointed out, faith in His work, and the application to those who have it of the benefits of His death.*
(* Hence the liturgical expression, "O Lamb of God, that taketh away the sins of the world," is unscriptural and erroneous. It implies no less than that the whole world must necessarily be saved. This shows the importance of jealously guarding the truth of God from human additions. (See John 1:2929The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. (John 1:29)))
If the reader has followed the above statements, he will have apprehended the difference between propitiation and substitution; for, as the writer already cited says, "These two aspects of the death of Jesus must be carefully distinguished in the atoning sacrifice He has accomplished. He has glorified God, and God acts according to the value of that blood towards all. He has borne the sins of His people, and the salvation of His people is complete." It was by the propitiation that He glorified God, and by which, all His holy claims having been met, God was set free in righteousness to proclaim grace to the whole world, to issue the invitation- "Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely." It is by substitution that all the sins of God's people have been borne away forever; and it is these two things that make up the one work of Christ -the atonement- which was wrought out and completed on Calvary, when through the eternal Spirit He offered Himself without spot to God. There are several aspects of this work, as may be seen in the details of the offerings (Lev. 1-4); but the work is one, and perfect, and eternally complete. In this finished work of Christ God has been abundantly glorified (John 13:31,32;17:431Therefore, when he was gone out, Jesus said, Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in him. 32If God be glorified in him, God shall also glorify him in himself, and shall straightway glorify him. (John 13:31‑32)
4I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do. (John 17:4)
), and He has shown His estimate of it by the glory in which He has set His beloved Son at His own right hand. It is moreover, as we have seen, the righteous basis on which God can now in His unspeakable grace send out to the whole world the entreating message―" Be ye reconciled to God "―as well as the all-efficacious ground on which He will put away sin out of His sight forever. (See Heb. 9:2626For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. (Hebrews 9:26))
Thus God has His part in the death of Christ. Believers have theirs, inasmuch as they know that by it their sins have been eternally put away. Even the world reaps some of its blessed consequences, in that it is written, " God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." Israel will share in its efficacy, for He died for that nation (John 11:49,5049And one of them, named Caiaphas, being the high priest that same year, said unto them, Ye know nothing at all, 50Nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not. (John 11:49‑50)); and thus the time will come when " all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob." (Rom. 11:2626And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: (Romans 11:26)) The whole creation will in virtue of it be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God (Rom. 8:2121Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. (Romans 8:21)); yea, the reconciliation of all things will proceed on the foundation of peace having been made through the blood of His cross. In a word, God will, in virtue of the finished work of Christ, accomplish all His counsels of grace, whether in respect of believers of this dispensation, of Israel in the age to come, or of the whole creation; and together with the introduction of the new heaven and the new earth, all sin will have been put away as the full consequence of the finished work of Christ.
E. D.