(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 5 of this book. Editor)
Some affect to think it derogatory to the character of God that his Son should suffer for us—the innocent for the guilty. But all such must have views of the divine Government unworthy of the subject; unworthy of the eternal truth and infinite justice of a holy God. The Lord has said that death was the penalty of transgression, and that his law should not be set aside, nor its penalty relaxed; for he would by no means clear the guilty. Ex. 34:7. Was it necessary for God to keep his word? If so, in order to man’s salvation, it was necessary to clear man from guilt—to save him from sin; for, as guilty, in sin, he could by no means be cleared. Reason attests that the salvation of a sinner can only be effected by providing a willing and honorable substitute. The Bible attests that God gave his own Son, and the Son gave himself to die for us. What reason, in the name of justice and mercy, demands, the Bible reveals in the gift of that holy One in whom infinite justice and mercy unite.
We think that all who have read carefully our remarks upon the requirements of the moral system, pages 32-54 [Chapter 3, “The Moral System”], must accept the conclusion, that a substitutionary sacrifice is the only means whereby the broken law may be vindicated, or the honor of the Government maintained, and a way opened for the pardon and salvation of the sinner.
The Scripture plan of atonement has this peculiarity, that it presents one offering for many offences, or, in truth, for many offenders. And this is true whether we consider it in the light of the Old or the New Testament; of the type or the antitype. Their sacrifices under the Levitical law were, indeed, “offered year by year continually” (Heb. 10:1), but on the day of atonement, the offerings of which were the heart and substance of the whole system, a goat was offered for all the people. Lev. 16:15.
The declaration of the apostle Paul, in Heb. 10:4, is too reasonable to admit of any dispute. He says, “For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goals should take away sins.” A bull and a goat were offered on the day of atonement, on which day the high priest took the blood into the most holy place. To these the apostle refers. His statement is founded on what may be termed the law of equivalents. While the greater may be accepted for the less, strict justice would forbid that the less should be accepted for the greater. A goat is not as valuable as a man. Its blood or life is not as precious, of as great worth, as the blood or life of a man. How much less could a goat answer as the just equivalent of a whole nation! If your neighbor owed you an ounce of silver, you would feel insulted if he offered you in payment an ounce of brass; but, on the contrary, you would consider him both just and generous if he offered to pay you with an ounce of gold. Even so, a man might consider himself demeaned, were he under sentence of death, if the Government should offer to accept the life of a goat in his stead. “Am I,” he might inquire, “of so little worth that I can be ransomed by a goat?”
Again, it would not only lower the dignity of a man, but it would give us a mean idea of the justice and importance of the law. If the broken law can be vindicated by the sacrifice of a goat, a dumb animal, the law itself could not be considered of great value or importance.
But how different would the case appear if the Government should announce that the law was so just, so sacred, and its violation so odious in the sight of the lawgiver and of all loyal subjects, that nothing less than the life of a prince royal could be accepted as a substitute for the transgressor. The announcement of the fact that no less a sacrifice would be accepted, without any reason being given, would at once raise the law in the estimation of every one who heard it, and overwhelm the transgressor with a sense of the enormity of his crime. Now he might inquire, “Is it possible that my sin is so great that I can be saved only by such a great sacrifice?” By this it will be seen, as we shall yet more fully consider, that the value of the Atonement—its efficacy as a vindication of the justice of the law and the honor of the Government—consists entirely in the dignity of the offering.
And this is by no means a reflection on the requirements or the sacrifices of the Levitical system. If considered as a finality—as having no relation to anything to follow—they do indeed appear insignificant and entirely worthless. But if considered as types of a greater offering yet to be made; as illustrations of man’s desert for his transgression, and of God’s abhorrence of sin, by which the sinner subjects himself to the penalty of death, they served a useful purpose. And in the prophecies of the Old Testament we find that a greater and more honorable sacrifice was set forth to Israel, as in Dan. 9:24-26, where it was announced that the promised Messiah should be cut off, but not for himself; and in Isa. 52 and 53 where he who was to be exalted very high, before whom kings should shut their mouths, was to be “wounded for our transgressions, and bruised for our iniquities.” How impressive are the words of the prophet: “Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he has poured out his soul unto death; and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.”
We insist, and we think with the very best reason, that the Mosaic law reaches its logical conclusion only in the Christian system, even as the prophecies of an exalted sacrifice find their fulfillment in Jesus of Nazareth, the son of David. And the objection raised against the idea of the Son of God dying for man, for the transgression of his Father’s holy law, is as contrary to reason as it is to the Scriptures. Were all men thoroughly imbued with a sense of the justice and the just requirements of the law of God, and would accept just conclusions in regard to those requirements, they could not fail to admire, with wonder and with awe, “the mystery of godliness” as presented in the offering of the Son of God as our ransom.
The law of God must be honored and vindicated by the sacrifice offered for its violation; therefore the death of Christ, the Son of the Most High, shows the estimate which he places upon his law. We can have correct views of either, the offering or the law, only as far as we have correct views of the other. Now, as the glory of God was the first great object of the gospel, Luke 1:14, and, as we have seen, the honor of the law must be the chief object of an atonement, we shall best be able to estimate the value of the law of God by having just views of the price paid for man’s redemption from its curse. And it is also true that they only can properly appreciate the gift of Christ who rightly estimate the holiness and justice of that law for which he died. They who accuse us of lightly esteeming the Saviour because we highly esteem the law of God, only prove that their study of governmental relations, and of the Bible conditions of pardon, has been exceedingly superficial.
What, then, was the sacrifice offered for us? the price paid to rescue us from death? Did Christ, the Son of God, die? Or did a human body die, and God’s exalted Son leave it in the hour of its suffering? If the latter be correct, it will greatly detract from the value and dignity of the Atonement; for the death of a mere human being, however sinless, would seem to be a very limited sacrifice for a sinful race. But, however that might be, we should not question God’s plan, if that was the plan. But what say the Scriptures? This must be our inquiry. To these we appeal.
It is by many supposed that the pre-existent being, the Son of God, could not suffer and die, but that he left the body at the moment of its death. If so, the only humiliation the Son manifested was to leave Heaven and dwell in such a body; and so far from the death of the body being a sacrifice on the part of the higher nature, it was only a release and exemption from the state of humiliation. This would hardly justify the Scripture declarations of the amazing love of God in giving his Son to die for the sins of the world.
The Methodist Discipline has a statement concerning the Son of God, which we think is quite in harmony with the Scriptures. “Two whole and perfect natures, that is to say, the Godhead and manhood, were joined together in one person, never to be divided, whereof is one Christ, very God, and very man, who truly suffered, was crucified, dead and buried.” We can only regret that we seldom meet with a Methodist author who takes a position as Scriptural as this of the Discipline.
The view which we call in question supposes that there were two distinct natures in the person of Christ; but we do not so read it in the sacred oracles. But if it be so—if there were two distinct natures united for a season, and separated in death, we must learn it in the revelation concerning him. What, then, are the terms in which this distinction is revealed? What terms express his higher, or divine nature, and what terms express his mere human nature? Whoever attempts to answer these questions will find the position utterly untenable. “Christ” expresses both combined. “Christ, the Son of the living God”—“The man Christ Jesus,” both refer to the same person or individual; there are no forms of speech to express his personality higher than the Son of God, or Christ; and the Scriptures declare that Christ, the Son of God, died.
The divinity and pre-existence of our Saviour are most clearly proved by those scriptures which refer to him as “the Word.” “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him, and without him was not anything made that was made.” John 1:1-3. This expresses plainly a pre-existent divinity. The same writer again says: “That which was from the beginning, … the Word of life.” 1 John 1:1. What John calls the Word, in these passages, Paul calls the “Son,” in Heb. 1:1-3. “God … hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power.” In other places in this letter this same exalted one is called Jesus Christ. In these passages we find the divinity or “higher nature” of our Lord expressed. Indeed, language could not more plainly express it; therefore it is unnecessary to call other testimony to prove it, it being already sufficiently proved.
The first of the above quotations says the Word was God, and also the Word was with God. Now it needs no proof—indeed it is self-evident—that the Word as God, was not the God whom he waswith. And as there is but “one God,” the term must be used in reference to the Word in a subordinate sense, which is explained by Paul’s calling the same pre-existent person the Son of God. This is also confirmed by John’s saying that the Word “was with the Father.” 1 John 1:2; also calling the Word “his Son Jesus Christ.” Verse 3. Now it is reasonable that the Son should bear the name and title of his Father, especially when the Father makes him his exclusive representative to man, and clothes him with such power—“by whom he made the worlds.” That the term God is used in such a sense is also proved by Paul, quoting Ps. 45:6, 7, and applying it to Jesus. “But unto the son, he saith, Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever, . . . therefore God, even thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows.” Heb. 1:8, 9. Here the title of God is applied to the Son, and his God anointed him. This is the highest title he can bear, and it is evidently used here in a sense subordinate to its application to his Father.
It is often asserted that this exalted one came to earth and inhabited a human body, which he left in the hour of its death. But the Scriptures teach that this exalted one was the identical person that died on the cross; and in this consists the immense sacrifice made for man—the wondrous love of God and condescension of his only Son. John says, “The Word of life,” “that which was from the beginning,” “which was with the Father,” that exalted, pre-existent One “which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled.” 1 John 1:1, 2.
This testimony of inspiration makes the Word that was with the Father from the beginning, a tangible being appreciable to the senses of those with whom he associated. How can this be so? For an answer we turn to John 1:14: “And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” This is plain language and no parable. But these are not the only witnesses speaking to the same intent. Says Paul, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus; who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God; but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself;” more literally, divested himself, i. e., of the glory he had with the Father before the world was. Phil. 2:5-8.
Again Paul speaks of him thus: “Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself took part of the same.” Heb. 2:14. The angel also announced to Mary, that her son Jesus should be called the Son of the Highest; and, “That holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.” Luke 1:35. Not that the “Son of the Highest” should dwell in and inhabit that which should be born of her, but her son was the holy, pre-existent one, thus by the energy of the Holy Spirit “made flesh.” Now if the human nature of Christ existed distinct from the divine, the foregoing declarations will not apply to either; for, if that were so, the pre-existent Word was not made flesh; it was not the man, nor in the fashion of a man, nor did the man, the servant, ever humble himself, or divest himself of divine glory, never having possessed it. But allowing that the Word—the divine Son of the Most High—was made flesh, took on him the seed of Abraham, and thus changed the form and manner of his existence by the mighty power of God, all becomes clear and harmonious.
Having noticed the humiliation of the exalted Son of God, we come to the question at issue: Who or what died for man? The answer is, Christ, the Son of the Most High; the pre-existent one that was with God in the beginning; the Word, who was made flesh. Now that the scriptures quoted all refer to the “higher nature” of Christ, the pre-existent Son of God, no one can doubt. Indeed, if the incarnation of the Holy One is not therein revealed, it cannot be revealed at all, and Socinianism is the only resort. But it is therein revealed plainly; and it is equally plain that the same Word, or Son, or Christ, died for our sins. We remarked that the titles of the Father are given to the Son, whereby he is called God. In Isa. 9:6, 7, he is called the son given; the child born; Wonderful; Counsellor; the mighty God; the everlasting Father; the Prince of Peace; and he is to sit upon the throne of David.
These expressions clearly identify the anointed of God, even Jesus. And he is evidently called here Prince of Peace in the same capacity that he is called the “King of Peace,” in Heb. 7, because “he is our peace,” Eph. 2:14, or makes peace for us on the throne of his Father; for it is only in his priestly office that he is King of Peace, that is, a priest after the order of Melchisedec. But Paul again says that he is our peace, reconciling us unto God by the cross, we being “made nigh by the blood of Christ.” Eph. 2:13-16. We have seen the necessity of blood to make an atonement, and that the high priest never entered the holies without it; and Christ, the King of Peace, our High Priest, obtains redemption for us “by his own blood.” See Heb. 6:20; 7:1-3; 8:1; 9:11, 12. Therefore that exalted one referred to in Isa. 9:6, 7, shed his blood or laid down his life for us. Again he is prophesied of under the name Immanuel, which Matthew said means “God with us.” The angel said he should “save his people from their sins.” Matt. 1:21, 23. And Paul said he accomplished this or put away sin by the sacrifice of himself, purging us “by his own blood.” Heb. 9:11-14, 26.
The gospel according to John, as quoted, takes up the Word, in the beginning, as God, with God, by whom all things were made; says the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us; represents him as saying he came from the Father and returned to him; as praying that the Father would restore to him the glory which he had with him before the world was; relates how he taught and wrought miracles; was falsely accused of the Jews; was put to death on the cross; his blood was shed; he was buried, and rose again from the dead. Now we ask the candid reader to look at this testimony, and answer: Is the history of any other person given in this book than of him who is called the Word, who was in the beginning? And if any other individual or person was referred to, who was that person?
Phil. 2:5-8, as quoted, speaks of Christ as being in the form of God; he thought it not robbery to be equal with God; was made in the likeness of man; humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Again we appeal to the candid: Is not all this spoken of one person? Or did one person humble himself, and another become obedient to death?
Paul, in Col. 1:14-20, uses the same form of expression that he does in Heb. 1. He says of the Son: “In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins; who is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of every creature; for by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, … all things were created by him, and for him; and he is before all things, and by him all things consist. And he is the head of the body, the church; who is the beginning, the first-born from the dead; that in all things he might have the pre-eminence. For it pleased the Father that in him should all fullness dwell; and having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things to himself.” Here is a description of power, of authority, of fullness, of divinity, truly wonderful; yet this exalted one, by whom all things were created, has made peace by the blood of his cross, and was raised from the dead; he is the head of the church, and we have redemption through his blood. Such testimony cannot be avoided; it needs no comment.
Jesus, in his testimony to the churches, takes up the same idea expressed by his apostle in Col. 1, as being creator of all, and first-born of every creature, and says: “I am the first and the last; I am he that liveth and was dead.” Rev. 1:17, 18. Here it is expressly affirmed that he who is the first and the last, was dead. Thus it is abundantly shown that Christ, the Son of the Most High, the Word, by whom the worlds were made, in whom all things consist, the first and the last, the image of the invisible God, in whom all fullness dwells, was made flesh and laid down his life, to purge us from sin, and to redeem us to God by his own blood.
We have remarked that we should not question God’s plan, whatever that might be. But we find that there is a fitness, a conformity to the necessity of things, in God’s arrangements. The value of the Atonement is not merely in the appointment of God; for, were it so, “the blood of bulls and of goats” might have answered every purpose, had God so appointed. But Paul says it is not possible that such blood should take away sin, or purge the conscience. Again, it is not in mere suffering; for, were that the case, man might atone for himself were he to suffer long enough. But it is evident from every principle of just government, that a man under the condemnation, to death, of a holy, just, and immutable law, could never make atonement for himself. But, the value of the atonement really consists in the dignity of the offering.
As a man under condemnation could not make an atonement for himself, so no one of the race could make atonement for another, all being alike involved in sin. And we may go further than this: Were a part of the human race unfallen, or free from sin, they could make no atonement for the other part, inasmuch as they would still be the creatures of God, and the service of their lives would be due to him. Therefore, should they offer their lives to God for their fellow-creatures, they would offer that to which they had no absolute right. He who owes all that he possesses cannot justly give his possession to pay the debts of another.
And the same reasoning would hold good in the case of the angels. They are but the “fellow-servants” of all on earth who serve God. Rev. 19:10; 22:8, 9. The life of an angel would be utterly inadequate for the redemption of man, as the angels are dependent creatures as man is, and as really owe to God the service of their lives as man does.
And again, as man has been in rebellion, were it possible for him to extricate himself from his present difficulty, he could give no security—no satisfactory assurance, that he would never again turn from his duty. And of the angels, we must say that sin has entered their ranks; the “Son of the Morning” exalted himself to his ruin. Isa. 14:12-15; the covering cherub lifted up himself against God. Eze. 28:13-17. Any redemption wrought by them, or by beings of that order, would still leave distrust in regard to the security of the Government from any future attempts against its authority.
But there was one Being to whom this reasoning and these remarks would not apply. It was the Son of God. He was the delight of the Father; glorified with him before the world was; adored and worshiped by angels. Prov. 8:30; John 17:5; Heb. 1. All creatures were made by and for him, and he upheld all things by the word of his Father’s power. John 1:1-3; Col. 1:15-17; Heb. 1:3. Enjoying the glory of the Father, he sat with him upon the throne from which all law proceeded. Now it is evident that he to whom such remarks will apply could make an offering that would meet the necessities of the case in every respect. He possessed the requisite dignity to magnify and vindicate the honor of the law of his Father in suffering its penalty. He was the Truth as well as the Life, and he said the law of his Father was in his heart, which was a guarantee that he would do no violence to the law himself, but would shield it from desecration and rescue it from reproach, even to the laying down of his life in its behalf. He was so far removed by nature and position from the rebellion that he could not be suspected of any complicity with it. He was so well acquainted with his Father’s holiness and justice that he could realize, as no other could, the awful condition of the sinner, and the terrible desert of his sin. He was so pure and exalted that his sufferings and death would have the desired effect upon the minds of those who were the recipients of his grace, to produce in them an abasement of themselves and an abhorrence of the sins which caused him to suffer, and thus to guard against a future rebellion amongst them whom he redeemed. And he left that throne of glory and of power and took upon him the nature of fallen man. In him were blended “the brightness of the Father’s glory” and the weakness of “the seed of Abraham.” In himself he united the Lawgiver to the law-breaker—the Creator to the creature; for he was made “sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” He was a connecting link between Heaven and earth; with one hand on the throne of God, and the other reaching down to grasp the poor, ruined creatures under the condemnation of a holy law. He “humbled himself” as it is not possible for any other to do. “He was rich” in a sense, and to an extent, that no other was. He had something to offer, of value far beyond our comprehension, and he freely gave it all for us. For our sakes he became poor. He left that glory to take upon himself grief, and toil, and pain, and shame, and to suffer even unto death; a death the most cruel that the malice of his enemies could invent, to save his enemies from well-deserved ruin.
“O Lamb of God, was ever pain,
Was ever love, like thine?”
Well might an inspired one exclaim, “Oh! the depths of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!” Well might he pray that we “may be able to comprehend with all saints, what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height, and to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge.”
With this clear testimony before us, we are better prepared to appreciate the law of God, to the honor of which such an amazing sacrifice has been offered. If we estimate it according to the price paid for its vindication, we are lost in wonder, and can only pray with David, “Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law.” Ps. 119:18. The law is holy and just, and without a sacrificial offering, man must have perished. And what an offering! the brightest ornament of Heaven, by whom the Eternal Father made all things, who was worthy to receive the worship of angels, became obedient to death to redeem guilty man from the curse of his Father’s law, thus showing to a wondering universe that the law cannot be set aside, nor its judgments reversed. Truly has the Lord fulfilled his promise, to “magnify the law and make it honorable.” Isa. 42:21. All the statements of the Bible writers are shown by this to be fully warranted, in regard to its perfection, completeness, as containing the whole duty of man, the elements of justification, a rule of holiness, etc.; also the remark previously made, that the holiness of this law, and of course of those who would keep it perfectly, is that which grows out of the attributes of God, as pure and changeless as Heaven itself. And we leave it to the candid judgment of those who lightly esteem and wantonly break the law, if God in justice spared not his Son, his well beloved Son in whom he greatly delighted, but let him suffer its penalty when he took its transgressions upon him, how can they hope to escape his justice and his wrath in the great coming day, if they continue to transgress it? Reader, can you hope that God will be more favorable to you if sin be found upon you in that day, than he was to his Son? True, his death was expiatory; he died for you; but do not therefore presume on his grace, but turn from sin, and live to his pleasure and glory. Do not abuse his mercy, because he grants the “remission of sins that are past,” by claiming indulgence for sins in the future. Be warned in time, for Christ is not the minister of sin, but of righteousness. He will not save you in sin, but from sin. While the carnal mind is enmity against God, and not subject to his law, the Christian can say, “I delight in the law of God.” Rom. 7:22; 8:7. May this be your happy experience.
(This article was taken from pages 146-163 of Joseph H. Waggoner’s book entitled, The Atonement in Light of Nature and Revelation. Editor)