The Atoning Sufferings of Christ: Third Letter

 •  17 min. read  •  grade level: 7
Third Letter
My dear Brother:
I will begin my answer to your letter by referring to your question about 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). You quote it, “take away the sins of the world.” I do not know if it was just a slip of the pen, or whether you have never noticed it, but this is not correct. It is “sin,” not “sins.” And this makes an immense difference. It is often quoted, “sins of the world”; but this is wrong. “Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world.” It is not a question of the sinful deeds of men, but of sin, which came into the world by the first man. Sin has blighted and ruined everything connected with the first creation. The very ground is cursed for man’s sake, and brings forth thorns and briars. Now sin which has done this is to be removed; and the Lamb of God is the One who is to do this. On the ground of His sacrifice on the cross every vestige of sin will be removed. This has not been done yet, though the sacrificial work, which is the ground of it, has been accomplished.
The removal of it will be completed when the new heavens and new earth are brought in. The present heavens and earth are defiled, and will be dissolved, and when that takes place, sin will be removed. There will be no sin in the new heavens and new earth. The wicked will not be there, and no evil will be there. All will be purified according to the value of the sacrifice of the Lamb of God, and righteousness will dwell there instead of sin (2 Peter 3). So we see in Colossians 1:2020And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven. (Colossians 1:20), that all things in heaven and earth — all things, not all men — are to be reconciled to the Godhead by the blood of Jesus’ cross. In verse 21 we see that men who believe are now reconciled; but the reconciliation of all things will be when the new heavens and new earth are established. Wicked men, who refuse Christ, and wicked angels, are never reconciled, but will be banished from the presence of the Lord, and from the heavens and earth, the scene of the display of His glory, never to defile them again through sin.
Now a word about Isaiah 53:66All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:6). You desire to know who is meant by “us all.” I believe there the prophet, speaking by the Spirit, gives utterance to the sentiments that will be wrought by the same Spirit in the hearts of the remnant of the Jews who will be brought into blessing at the coming of the Lord; that is, when God’s dealings with Israel will have led this remnant to repentance. They will look upon Him whom they pierced, and confess their sin and iniquity in having despised and rejected Him. But this will be in faith, and therefore in blessing to their souls. Through grace they will see that the One whom they despised and slew was wounded for their transgressions, and that Jehovah had laid their iniquity on Him, and that He had atoned for it, His soul having been made an offering for sin. It is the language of faith, confessing sins, but at the same time seeing how Jehovah had dealt with their sins in the death of their Messiah.
In Leviticus 16, the type answers to this. There are two goats, one for Jehovah, and one for Israel; one whose blood is carried into the holiest and put on the mercy seat, and the other for a scapegoat to bear away the sins of the people. When the high priest carried in the blood of the slain goat, and sprinkled it on and before the mercy seat, etc., he came out to the waiting congregation outside, and confessed their sins on the head of the scapegoat, and they were then borne away into a land not inhabited. Now you will see in that chapter there were two classes of people — Aaron and his house, and the congregation of Israel. Aaron offered a bullock for himself and his house, but there is nothing about his coming out and confessing the sin of his house on another bullock. Why this difference? It shows the perfectness of the type. Aaron’s house is a type of God’s house now, as seen in Hebrews. Aaron’s sons were priests, and served in the holy place. So we see in Hebrews, those who are of God’s house now are priests and have access by the blood of Jesus into the sanctuary, even the holiest, because the veil is rent.
And there they have Christ over them as their High Priest.
Now this High Priest has gone into the presence of God for us by His own blood, but has not yet come out again. Only the Holy Spirit has come and testified that He has obtained eternal redemption, and that our sins shall be remembered no more, so that we have now access to the holiest as a priestly house while the High Priest is still within. We do not need to wait till He comes again to know our acceptance, since the Holy Spirit has borne witness, and we have believed. Through grace we are associated with the High Priest as His house, and with Him over us we draw near to God without a veil, and without a cloud, because we are there according to the infinite, unchanging, eternal value of the sacrifice of Christ.
Not so Israel. They are still outside, waiting till the High Priest comes out and shows Himself to them. Just as the congregation waited outside until the high priest came out and confessed their sins on the head of the scapegoat, so Israel now waits (in unbelief, as we know), until Christ comes out and reveals Himself to them as the true High Priest who has presented a propitiatory sacrifice for them, and who has confessed their sins as His own, and borne them away. This they will learn and acknowledge, as in Isaiah 53. They will look on Him whom they pierced, and they will say, “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. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:5-65But 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. 6All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:5‑6)). It is most blessed to see the grace that leads them to acknowledge their sins, and leads them to see how when they were killing their own King, the Prince of life, God was providing a Sacrifice to put away their sins.
The direct application, then, of Isaiah 53 is to Israel. Yet the principle applies now wherever there is faith. Peter so applied it with Jews who accepted Christianity, as we see in 1 Peter 2:2525For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls. (1 Peter 2:25). As sheep gone astray they had returned to the Shepherd and Bishop of their souls, who had borne their sins in His own body on the tree. We have the same principle also in the end of Romans 4 where Paul says, “Who was delivered for our offenses.” It is the language of faith. Those who submit to God’s righteousness by faith in Jesus have title to say, “Who was delivered for our offenses, and was raised again for our justification.” And when they can say this, they have peace with God. They see that their sins were judicially transferred to Christ, and borne by Him, as the One who offered Himself to God for this purpose; so that now, through faith in Him, they are justified by His blood, that blood which cleanseth from all sin.
I know not whether I make it clear to you or not. It is clear to my own soul. And I may say, it was this truth that set my soul in God’s presence without a cloud, according to God’s righteousness by which He justifies on the basis of the sacrifice of Christ. I will now refer to some points in your letter connected with the sufferings of Christ.
You say, you “see that Christ suffered from God, or rather that He suffered because in time of need He was forsaken of God.” You also say these were “the most terrible sufferings”; and again, this “was the inward suffering, and the outward sufferings were from men.” I think there is a partial admission of the truth here, though not clear; and it is afterward spoiled by your calling in question His suffering “under the judgment of God.” Now what I affirm is, that He did suffer under that judgment, and that is the uniform teaching of Scripture — under God’s judgment, not for His own sins (for He was without sin), but for the sins of His people. He “was delivered for our offenses,” “bare our sins,” “was offered to bear the sins of many,” and when they were laid on Him, He was bruised and smitten of Jehovah.
You may say, men were the “instruments,” and God “permitted” them, and that what God permits is often spoken of as if He does it Himself. To a certain extent this is true, and has an important bearing on the sufferings of Christ, especially in their application to the nation of Israel, or the remnant that will form the nation by-and-by. But this must not be used to neutralize the truth as to the really atoning suffering of Christ. The Jewish remnant in the latter day will be given up to their enemies as Christ was, and will be down-trodden and oppressed when the wicked are set up, and flourish as the green bay tree. They will feel too that they are under the hand of God, in affliction and sore chastisement because of their sins, and, while upright in heart, without the sense of God’s favor. The blessed Lord has entered into all this at the cross, as delivered up to His enemies, and as Messiah cut off, and not receiving the kingdom. And thus He will be able to sympathize with the remnant in the latter day, and sustain them in their sorrows and anguish of heart. But this is not our subject just now, important as it is for the understanding of many scriptures in connection with Israel. Our subject now is the atoning suffering of Christ, not what He suffered in order to sympathize with others.
Now I freely admit, that men were the instruments in much that Christ suffered, and that as from God. For if God gave Him over to His enemies, this was a terrible thing as coming from God. But must we stop here? Did not Christ suffer because God forsook Him on the cross, and suffer not from men but from God? Was there any instrument here? Was it not God’s own act? God, instead of comforting Him, abandoned Him. Suppose there had been no men there, and that God had given Him up to darkness, withdrawing the light of His face, so that impenetrable, darkness came in between the soul of Christ and God, would you say there were any instruments here, or that God only permitted it? God forsook Him. “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” (Matt. 27:4646And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? (Matthew 27:46)). It is no question of instruments, but of what God Himself did when He had laid our iniquities on Him. To deny this is to deny atonement. I know you do not wish to deny the truth, but I do not believe your soul has grasped the real character of Christ’s atoning suffering, and so this scripture has not its proper weight with you.
You ask for scripture as to using the word “wrath” — Christ enduring “judicial wrath.” Read Psalm 102. There the Messiah pours out His soul to Jehovah, who has lifted Him up and cast Him down, weakened His strength in the way, and shortened His days. In verse 10, He says, “because of thine indignation and thy wrath.” He cries to Jehovah, “0 My God, take Me not away in the midst of My days.” Jehovah answers: “Thy years are throughout all generations,” etc. vv. 23-28. Compare Hebrews 1. All this, no doubt, is connected with Christ as the Messiah of Israel, who came and was cut off instead of getting the kingdom; but it reaches up to the sufferings of the cross, and “indignation” and “wrath” were there. And this is quite in keeping with the general teaching of the Word of God. “Wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness,” (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)). When and where revealed? Was it not at the cross where God’s true attitude toward sin was fully revealed? The wrath of God abides 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)). Why? Is it not because his sins are on him, as having refused that which alone could remove them? God’s wrath is against sin. Sin must be dealt with in righteous judgment according to the majesty of God, either in the person of the guilty one, or the Holy Victim on whom the sin is laid. And thus when the sins of God’s people were laid on Christ, they brought down upon Him God’s wrath and curse. This was on the cross, and there only. It is very simple, but needs that our souls bow to God’s estimate of what sin is, and His way of putting it away, to understand it.
You object to the statement, that Christ “was made sin.” Well, I have no objection to saying He was made a “sin offering”;1 but this only identifies the sin and the offering, and so really comes to the same thing. In the Greek there is one word used for both “sin” and “sin offering,” and this is remarkable, for it shows the real character of the “sin offering.” Christ offered Himself without spot to God, a spotless victim. But what then? When this spotless One offered Himself to God, God laid our sins on Him — made Him a sin offering — and then meted out to Him what was due to sin. It was a dreadful cup — unmingled wrath and judgment, I believe, without one element in it to alleviate the sorrow of that dark hour. This cup He drank for me — for all who believe — so that we can say our judgment is passed, we “shall not come into judgment” (John 5:2424Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life. (John 5:24)), because that blessed One took our iniquities at the cross, and exhausted the judgment due to them; and this is the reason why God is righteous in justifying those who believe.
We get substantially the same truth in Galatians 3:1313Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: (Galatians 3:13). “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us.” This is a very strong word, as you know. He took the place of an accursed one, in order that those on whom the curse righteously rested might go free. God has attached a curse to the breaking of the law. And the transgressor feels and knows, that he has to do with God as One who has pronounced this curse. This is one side of the truth; thank God there is another: God has given Christ to be a curse, and thus to redeem us from the curse of the law. This quite agrees with the fact that Christ was made a sin offering. God made Him to be this, and for us, and laid our sins on Him, so as to put them away in the shedding of His blood, that we might be forever cleared from the curse and judgment of God.
You ask: “Did He carry our sins in His body as a person carries a burden, or as a person feels in his heart the pains of his relatives?” I do not think it was either, though the former rather than the latter; He did feel all our sorrows in His heart. But this was during His whole life, as at the grave of Lazarus, and the like. He was tried (or tempted), in all points as we are, except from sin within, and this that He might sympathize with us, succor us in time of trial. But all this is different from bearing our sins. His bearing our sins was this: that He took upon Himself the responsibility of our guilt, or became identified with it in such a way as a victim, that the punishment of it fell on Him. God, so to speak, in grace to us, transferred the penalty of our guilt to Him, and He fully met it in the shedding of His blood. It was in this way that He came under the weight of our sins, and of God’s judgment. He had the sense of this in His soul, felt the awful weight of it, and cried out when abandoned of God. Forsaken of God, the pressure of wrath was upon His soul, as bearing our sins. It was the indescribable horror of this that led Him to cry out. His cry was not exactly an appeal for deliverance (although we get this in Psa. 22), but “wiry”? He had not offended God, had committed no sin; WHY should God forsake Him? But Scripture tells us why. Our sins were there, and on Him, and the holy fire was consuming Him — the fire of judgment — as the sin offering was burned outside the camp.
From this awful pressure He was delivered while on the cross, so that He could commend His spirit in peace to His Father; and this is what you refer to in Luke 23:4646And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost. (Luke 23:46). And He could then also say, “It is finished” (John 19:3030When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost. (John 19:30)). Atonement was finished on the cross. God was glorified, and rent the veil, in token that the shed blood had opened a way into His presence. But it was only in resurrection that He was delivered from His enemies. On the morning of the third day the soldiers were scattered, and God raised Him from the dead. But the fact that He could commend His spirit to His Father when He expired, only confirms what I have been trying to show from Scripture was the real character of His atoning suffering.
You believe that He bore our sins in the same manner as He bore our “griefs,” etc. I would have you notice the difference. He bore our “griefs” during His lifetime; that is, before the cross, and not only at the cross. See Matt. 8:16-1716When the even was come, they brought unto him many that were possessed with devils: and he cast out the spirits with his word, and healed all that were sick: 17That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses. (Matthew 8:16‑17). But Peter tells us He bore our sins “on the tree.” One was all along the path He trod as the “man of sorrows”; the other was only on the tree, when He was made a sin offering — made a curse — and was forsaken of God. The difference is immense.
I know not that I need to add more, unless it be to again express my full conviction, that the translation of Isaiah 53:6-106All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. 7He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. 8He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken. 9And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth. 10Yet 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 53:6‑10) [save vs. 9 which should read as in J.N.D. trans.], is perfectly correct, and expresses the exact thought which is in the Hebrew. In the margin of the English Bible, v. 6 is “made the iniquities of us all to meet on Him.” This comes much to the same thing. Our sins were on Him; and this was Jehovah’s doing. And Peter, referring to this very passage says He bore them in His own body not merely felt them in His heart. It was in His body, the body in which He was offered as a sacrifice, the blood being shed — the life given up which was substituted for the guilty — in order that the sins might be put away, and our eternal salvation secured by this priceless ransom.
Affectionately your brother in the Lord,
“O Christ, what burdens bowed Thy head!
Our load was laid on Thee;
Thou stoodest in the sinner’s stead –
To bear all ill for me.
A victim led, Thy blood was shed;
Now there’s no load for me.
“Jehovah lifted up His rod –
O Christ, it fell on Thee!
Thou wast forsaken of Thy God;
No distance now for me.
Thy blood beneath that rod has flowed:
Thy bruising healeth me.
“For me, Lord Jesus, Thou hast died,
And I have died in Thee;
Thou’rt risen: my bands are all untied;
And now Thou liv’st in me.
The Father’s face of radiant grace
Shines now in light on me.”