(In 1884 Joseph Harvey Waggoner published a book entitled The Atonement in the Light of Nature and Revelation. This book contains some wonderful insights into the plan of salvation. There are four chapters in particular that I believe will be a blessing to you. The June issue began our reprint of these four chapters (4-7) which deal with the death of Christ and how our view of God directly affects our understanding and appreciation of the atonement. This month we are printing chapter 7 of this book, which will conclude this series. Editor)
In Part First [part of the book] we considered the moral in distinction from the natural system, and certain principles of Government which are universally accepted, and arrived at the conclusion that substitutionary sacrifice is the only means whereby a sinner can be relieved from condemnation. And from this conclusion, if the principles are carefully considered, we cannot see how any one can dissent. But a substituted sacrifice is the basis of all atonement; and hence we conclude that an atonement is consistent with reason. The principles of Government and the recognition of divine justice, demand an atonement or the entire destruction of a sinful race, confronted as it is with the declaration, “The wages of sin is death.”
In Part Second we have, thus far, examined the principles of the divine Government as revealed in the Bible, in behalf of which the Atonement must be made. For, an atonement is a vindication of justice by an offering to the broken law. And we have examined the nature of the offering made for man’s redemption. That “the Son of God died” there can be no doubt, except with those who prefer their own theories to the plain testimony of the word of God. That in his death he suffered the penalty, the full penalty, of the law, there seems to be no ground to dispute, unless the scripture is directly denied which says. “The wages of sin is death.” That he died for “the world,” “for all,” that he “tasted death for every man,” is expressly declared; and of the sufficiency of the offering there can be no doubt, admitting the declarations of the Scriptures concerning the actual death of that exalted being who is called the Word, who “was in the beginning,” who was in glory “with the Father” before the world was. According to the most commonly received views these points about exhaust the subject, it being taken for granted that the death of Christ and the Atonement are the same thing. But they are not identical. True, there can be no atonement without the death of a sacrifice; but there can be the death of the sacrifice without an atonement.
While we have endeavored to vindicate the truth that the death of Christ was vicarious—a truth which we cannot see how any can deny and yet profess to believe the Scriptures—we have avoided using the common term, “vicarious atonement.” That which is done by substitution is vicarious; and as Christ makes atonement for others, not for himself, it is also called vicarious. But the word is properly used in a stricter sense, as of substitution only; as that Christ does for us just what the law requires of us. The law requires the life of the transgressor, and Christ died for us; therefore his death was truly vicarious. But the Atonement is the work of his priesthood, and is not embraced within the requirement upon the sinner; for it is something entirely beyond the limit of the sinner’s action. A sinner may die for his own sins, and thereby meet the demand of justice; but he is then lost, and we cannot say any atonement is made for him. The action of the priest is not in the sinner’s stead, for it is beyond that which the sinner was required or expected to do; and in this restricted sense it is not vicarious, as was the death of Christ. By this it is seen that there is a clear distinction between the death of Christ and the Atonement, and as long as this distinction is lost sight of, so long will the term “vicarious atonement” convey a wrong impression to the mind. Many diverse views of the Atonement exist; and there are many whose views are vague and undefined; and we believe that both confusion and error arise on this subject from a disregard of the above distinction, more than from all other causes combined.
We have seen (pages 127-129) that when a man brought an offering, he was required to lay his hand upon its head; if the people had sinned, the elders of the congregation were required to lay their hands upon the head of the offering; but in every case the priest made an atonement. See Lev. 4:20, 26, 31, 35; 5:6, 10, 16, 18; 6:7; 16:30, 32, and others. “When a ruler hath sinned… he shall bring his offering, a kid of the goats, a male without blemish; and he shall lay his hand upon the head of the goat, and kill it in the place where they kill the burnt offering before the Lord; it is a sin offering… And the priest shall make an atonement for him.” Lev. 4:22-26. Three things in this work we notice in their order: 1. He shall lay his hand upon the head of the offering. 2. He shall kill it. 3. The priest shall make an atonement. Here it is plainly seen that the killing of the offering and making the atonement are distinct and separate acts; and we shall find that in every case where a sin offering was brought to the priest, he took the blood to make an atonement, according to the word of the Lord: “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; for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul.” Lev. 17:11.
In regard to the ceremony of laying hands upon the head of a sin offering, Rollin, in his remarks on the Religion of the Egyptians, says: “But one common and general ceremony was observed in all sacrifices, viz., the laying of hands upon the head of the victim, loading it at the same time with imprecations, and praying the gods to divert upon that victim all the calamities which might threaten Egypt.” Thus we see that the idea of substitutionary sacrifice, or vicarious death, was not confined to the Hebrews, but was recognized wherever the efficacy of sacrifices was acknowledged, which must have been revealed immediately after the fall of man.
Passing over many instances of the use of the word, we turn to Lev. 16, to the prescribed order on the day of atonement, which specially typified the work of our High Priest and Saviour. On the tenth day of the seventh month, the high priest made an atonement for all the people. The Lord fixed it as a statute, “to make an atonement for the children of Israel, for all their sins once a year.” Verses 29, 34. First, he made an atonement for himself and for his house, that he might appear sinless before God when he stood for the people. But this first act did not typify anything in the work of Christ, for Paul says he was separate from sinners, and therefore need not offer for himself. Heb. 7:26, 27. As the high priest entered the most holy place on the day of atonement, it will be necessary to take a brief view of the sanctuary to understand this work.
The book of Exodus, commencing with chapter 25, contains an order from the Lord to make him a sanctuary, with a full description thereof, together with the formula for anointing the priests and inducting them into their office. The sanctuary was an oblong building, divided into two parts; the first room was called the holy, which was entered by a door or vail on the east side. The second part was called the most holy, which had no outside entrance, but was entered by a door or vail at the back or west end of the holy, called “the second vail.” The articles made and placed in the sanctuary were an ark of wood overlaid with gold, and a mercy-seat, which was the cover of the ark. On the mercy-seat were made two cherubim of gold, their wings shadowing the mercy-seat. In the ark were placed the testimony, or tables of stone, containing the ten commandments. See Ex. 25:16-21; 31:18; 1 Kings 8:9. The ark was put into the most holy place of the sanctuary, and was the only article put therein. In the holy place, or first room, were the table of show-bread, the golden candlestick, and the altar of incense.
When the commandment was given to make the sanctuary, the object was stated by the Lord, that he might dwell among them. A holy dwelling-place, or dwelling-place of the Lord, is given as the signification of the word sanctuary. In accordance with this design, the Lord said he would meet with the high priest above the mercy-seat, between the wings of the cherubim, there to commune with him of all things that he would give him in commandment unto the children of Israel. Ex. 25:22. But by other scriptures we learn that he would meet with them in the most holy place only once a year, on the tenth day of the seventh month, which was the day of atonement.
He promised also to meet with them at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, or holy place, where there was a continual or daily offering. Ex. 29:42, 43; Heb. 9:6, 7. Let it be borne in mind that although the glory of God was to abide in the sanctuary, it was manifested only in two places as specified: at the door of the holy where the table and candlestick were set, and in the most holy, above the ark, over the wings of the cherubim. Sometimes the glory of God filled the whole sanctuary; but when that was the case, the priests could not go in to minister. See Ex. 40:34, 35; 1 Kings 8:10, 11; 2 Chron. 5:13, 14; 7:1, 2. These few facts are sufficient to guide us in our examination of the atonement; and the reader is requested to examine them with care, and get them all well fixed in the mind.
Having made an atonement for himself, the high priest took two goats from the people, and cast lots upon them, one to be chosen for a sin offering, the other for a scape-goat. The goat upon which the Lord’s lot fell was then slain, and the priest took its blood and went into the sanctuary and sprinkled it upon the mercy-seat and before the mercy-seat, in that manner making an atonement for the children of Israel, by blotting out their sins and removing them from the presence of God. That this was the true idea and intent of that work, we learn from Lev. 16:15-19, wherein it is not only said that the priest made atonement for the children of Israel, but that he also made atonement for the holy places, cleansing them and hallowing them from the uncleanness of the children of Israel. The uncleanness or sins of the children of Israel could never come directly in contact with the holies of the sanctuary, but only by proxy; for they (the people) were never permitted to enter there. The priest was the representative of the people; he bore their judgment. Ex. 28:30. In this manner the sanctuary of God was defiled; and as the blood was given to make atonement, the priest cleansed the sanctuary from their sins by sprinkling the blood upon and before the mercy-seat in the divine presence. That this process is called the cleansing of the sanctuary we learn in the plainest terms from this scripture. We quote as follows:—
“Then shall he kill the goat of the sin offering, that is for the people, and bring his blood within the vail, and do with that blood as he did with the blood of the bullock, and sprinkle it upon the mercy-seat, and before the mercy-seat. And he shall make an atonement for the holy place [Heb., the sanctuary], because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions in all their sins; and so shall he do for the tabernacle of the congregation, that remaineth among them in the midst of their uncleanness… And he shall sprinkle of the blood upon it with his finger seven times, and cleanse it and hallow it from the uncleanness of the children of Israel.” Lev. 16:15-19. From this language there can be no appeal.
It has been seen that the sinner brought his offering; that it was slain; and that the priest took the blood and made the atonement; and here it is further established that the atonement was made in the sanctuary. This most clearly proves that the killing of the offering did not make the atonement, but was preparatory to it; for the atonement was made in the sanctuary, but the offering was not slain in the sanctuary.
These things, of course, were typical, and have their fulfillment in the work of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God. That he is a High Priest, and the only mediator in the gospel, will be readily admitted; but the order and manner of his service must be determined by the Scriptures. The apostle states that he is a priest after the order of Melchisedec, that is a kingly priest, on the throne of the Majesty in the Heavens, a minister of the sanctuary and true tabernacle which the Lord pitched, and not man. Heb. 8:1. Of course this is the antitype of the earthly sanctuary, of the tabernacle pitched or made by man. He also affirms that if he were on earth, he would not be a priest for the evident reason that the priests of the earthly sanctuary were of the tribe of Levi, while our Lord sprang out of Judah, of which tribe Moses spake nothing concerning priesthood, and of which no man gave attendance at the altar. Heb. 7:13, 14; 8:4. This will correct a mistake very often made, that the priesthood of our Lord commenced on earth. If he had entered on the work of his priesthood at his baptism, as has been said, he would have acted with those who were types of himself; and if as a priest he had officiated in the temple, it would have been to make offerings typical of his own.
That Christ was a “prophet, priest, and king,” many of us have learned from our early childhood; but comparatively few ever learn the true relation these offices sustain to each other. He was “that prophet” while on earth; and Paul’s testimony given above shows that he filled no other office. Many suppose that his priesthood is connected with that kingdom which is given to him as the Son of David. But this is utterly forbidden by plain Scripture declarations. Aaron had no kingship, and David had no priesthood; and Christ is not a priest after the order of Aaron (Heb. 7:11), so is he not a king on the throne of David (i.e., during his priesthood). It is “after the order of Melchisedec,” who was both king and priest, that Christ is a priest on his Father’s throne. At different times, he occupies two different thrones (See Rev. 3:21); and the throne of his Father in Heaven, which he now occupies as priest, “he shall have delivered up” at his coming. 1 Cor. 15:23-28. Then, in subjection to his Father, he will take his own throne, called also the throne of David, on which he will reign forever—without end. Luke 1:32, 33. But then he will no more be a priest, his priesthood being altogether on the throne he now occupies. The reader is requested to examine these points carefully, as a misunderstanding of them has given rise to much confusion in the “theological world.”
Having shown the distinction between the earthly and heavenly sanctuaries, Paul proceeds to set forth the relation which the ministrations in each sustain to the other, saying of the priests on earth: “Who serve unto the example and shadow of heavenly things.” Heb. 8:5. As the earthly is the shadow and example, we may compare it with the heavenly, the substance, by which we may gain a clearer idea of the latter than is afforded us by any other means. Indeed, the comparison is made to our hand by the apostle. Note the following text, in which the distinction here claimed between the death of Christ and his work as priest to make atonement, is clearly recognized: “For the bodies of those beasts whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned without the camp. Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate.” Heb. 13:11, 12. Thus we learn definitely that, as priest, he makes atonement; but his priesthood is not on earth, but in the sanctuary in Heaven; and that he did not suffer in the sanctuary where atonement is made. It was not necessary, in the type, for the priest to slay the offering (see Lev. 1:4, 5); but it was necessary for the priest to take the blood and with it enter the sanctuary of the Lord to make an atonement. Jesus did not shed his blood as priest; it was shed by sinners. But he did by “his own blood” enter “into the holy places” not made with hands, of which the earthly were figures, “to appear in the presence of God for us.” Heb. 9:12, 24.
We might quote much to show the prevalence of the error, that the Atonement was made on the cross, but that is not necessary. The “Manual of the Atonement,” from which we have before quoted, says:—
“When he had completed his mediatorial work, he meekly yielded himself up into the hands of his heavenly Father, saying, ‘Into thy hands I commit my spirit.’”
So far from his “mediatorial work” being completed when he was on the cross, it had not yet commenced. The mediatorial work is the work of the priest, which he had not entered upon when he died. Paul says he entered into Heaven “by his own blood,” “now to appear in the presence of God for us.” But if his mediatorial work was completed when he was on earth, even before his death, as the above quotation would have it, then he cannot be a mediator now! and all that the Scriptures say of his priesthood on the throne of his Father in Heaven, there making intercession for us, is incomprehensible or erroneous.
By thus confounding the sacrifice or death of Christ with the Atonement, the latter is supposed to be a general work, made for all mankind. With this we cannot agree. That Christ died for all, is distinctly stated, but we have seen that that was only preparatory to the Atonement, and it is in the Atonement that application is made of the blood to the full removal of sin. This is shown also in the type. The goat of the sin offering was slain for the people, and, of course, was offered to meet the wants of all; but while the priest made the atonement, they were required to “afflict their souls,” or come as humble penitents before the Lord, and whosoever did not should be cut off from among the people. Lev. 16:29; 23:27-29. This, then, was required of them individually, in that day, in order that their sins might be atoned for by the priest; for we cannot suppose that they would be cut off whose sins were actually blotted out, or removed from the presence of the judge, by the blood of the offering with which the sanctuary was cleansed from sin.
The same is also taught by Peter, who says that God exalted Jesus, who was slain, to be a prince and Saviour, to grant repentance and forgiveness of sins. Acts 5:30, 31. Now that “he died for all” there can be no question; and his death is absolute and without condition. But not so the Atonement; for Peter says again, “Repent ye, therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord,” &c. Acts 3:19. We have found that, when the priest made the atonement, he took the blood and cleansed the sanctuary of God from the sins wherewith it had been defiled; and this is the only act which will answer to the expression of blotting out the sins, for blood was the only thing that would remove them. Hence, while the blood of Christ was shed for all, the efficacy of that blood in atoning for, or blotting out, sin, is contingent, is availing only for those who will repent and be converted. He died for the world—he died for all; and he is able to save to the uttermost them that come unto God by him. Heb. 7:25. But he will save no others…
Man is a rebel, an enemy to his Maker. God, though he loves man in his ruined condition, is a just Governor. His love can certainly go no farther, and grant no more, than justice can permit. Justice must be appeased; and while the offering makes it possible to pardon consistent with justice, it leaves us guilty, worthy of the condemnation under which we rest. A complete vindication of the righteousness of the law is found in the sacrifice of the Son of God; but, as concerns the sinner, personally, he rests under condemnation still, until the mediation of Christ brings him into such harmonious relations with the divine Government that it will not endanger its principles, nor reflect dishonor upon the Governor, to freely forgive him and take him back into his favor.
When we consider that the sacrifice is the means whereby the Atonement is made, we can readily understand how hilasmos is used in 1 John 2:2, defined by Liddell & Scott, a means of appeasing, an expiatory sacrifice. Jesus Christ is the propitiation—the sacrifice to divine justice, for all. It is by means of his intercession, his pleading his blood, that probation is given and mercy offered to the whole world.
But it cannot too often be pressed upon the mind of the impenitent that probation, and the offer of mercy through the blood of Christ which was shed for all, does not secure the salvation of all. Says David, “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity.” Ps. 32:1, 2. This blessing does not come upon all, but it is placed within the reach of all by the death of Christ. And whose sins will be covered? Evidently theirs who have confessed and forsaken their sins, or who have been reconciled to God. This is exactly the order of the work described by Peter in Acts 3:19. “Repent ye, therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord.” This blotting out is by the blood which the High Priest brings into the sanctuary to cleanse it from sin. We cannot, for a moment, suppose that the sin of any will be blotted out or covered, who still maintains his opposition and enmity to God; but he who confesses and forsakes shall find mercy; that is, he who is reconciled shall have his sins forgiven and blotted out. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9. “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper; but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy.” Prov. 28:13.
As the work of the high priest under the law in making atonement for all the people, was but the work of one day, a short time compared to the continual work of intercession, and that day clearly specified, so is the atonement by our High Priest, Jesus Christ, in the antitype. It is accomplished just before his second coming. If this be made to appear it will be another and a strong proof that reconciliation is distinct from it, and must precede it.
(Joseph H. Waggoner—The Atonement in Light of Nature and Revelation, 1884, pages 180-199. This chapter has been somewhat condensed.)