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Reformed view of the Biblical Doctrine of the Atonement
All the passages below are taken from Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ book “God the Father, God the Son.” The series of sermons were preached at Westminister Chapel, London, from 1952 to 1955 and was first published in 1996.
Having considered some of the false theories with respect to the doctrine of what exactly happened when the Son of God died on the cross, we come now to a positive exposition of what I claim to be the biblical teaching. It is certainly the view of the atonement that was taught by all the Protestant Fathers. It was taught by Martin Luther and John Calvin and by the Reformers in Britain.
So what is it? The biblical teaching emphasises the supremacy of the substitutionary element in the atonement. It asserts that the Lord Jesus Christ suffered the penalty of the broken law vicariously, as the substitute for His people. That is, in a brief compass, a statement of what has been known as the reformed view of the biblical doctrine of the atonement. Now you will notice at once that there is a difference between this and those false theories which we have considered. This view has two main characteristics. The first is the emphasis upon the fact that Jesus Christ has done something as our substitute, and the second is the penal aspect---it states that the law pronounced a penalty which He, as our substitute, has borne in our stead.
Notice that neither of those two characteristics was really mentioned in any of the false theories that we previously mentioned. The objection to this view has mainly been with respect to the penal aspect, but I shall not delay over this objection because I am anxious to give you a positive statement of the doctrine. Let us then look at the biblical teaching on which this view is based. There are many different ways in which one could approach this subject but the most satisfactory way, it seems to me, is under the following headings.
The first is this: the New Testament clearly teaches that our Lord's work is entirely in line with the Old Testament teaching on sacrifices. Our Lord Himself claimed that, you remember, and did so more than once. As we have already seen, He was the Priest who offered the sacrifice. The New Testament teaching about Christ's work parallels everything we are told about the work of the priest who made offerings and the sacrifices under the Old Testament dispensation. Our Lord Himself said, `Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil' (Matthew 5:17) ---that was His specific claim, and it has reference to all the Levitical rules about sacrifices. It includes the whole law in all its fulness, not only the moral aspect, but, in a very special way, the ritual aspect which is concerned with the offerings and the sacrifices. And not only did He claim it there, He made the same claim after the resurrection: `And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me' (Luke 24:44).
But then, of course, there is a sense in which the whole of the epistle to the Hebrews was written to establish that point. The argument of Hebrews is that the Old Testament was nothing but a kind of shadow, pointing everywhere to the substance; it reveals to us the types pointing to the prototype. `You must not go back to the shadow,' says the writer in effect, `now you have the substance.' Since the Old Testament types pointed forward to Him, we are entitled to argue that they were of the same kind and the same essential quality. If you read chapters 7 and 9, particularly, of the epistle to the Hebrews, you will see that argument worked out in considerable detail.
What, then, does the Old Testament teach with regard to the function of the sacrifices that were offered by the priest? The first thing we are told is that the purpose of the burnt offerings and sin offerings was to propitiate God. They were designed to make God look with favour and with pleasure upon the people who had sinned against Him. We have already looked at that term but let us consider it again as we find it in the well-known parable of the Pharisee and the tax-collector who went up to the Temple to pray. In the Authorised Version, we are told that the tax-collector `would not lift up so much as his eyes', but said, `God be merciful to me a sinner.' Now what he really said was, `God be propitiated to me a sinner' (Luke 18:13). The object of the sacrifices was that God should look upon sinful people in a benign manner, in a manner that was ready to receive them.
I emphasise that because you remember how many of those false theories would have us believe that the sole purpose of the death of our Lord upon the cross was to do something to us. But at the very beginning they are wrong. The object of the burnt offerings and sacrifices was---if I may put it reverently---to do something to God, not to influence man; they were designed to propitiate God. This is a most important point.
The second thing that we see clearly in these Old Testament Scriptures is that this propitiation was secured by the expiation of the guilt, and the definition of expiation, let me remind you, is to wipe out the guilt of sins. These sacrifices were meant to propitiate God, and the result of that was that God expiated the people's sins.
And the third thing the sacrifices and burnt offerings teach is that this expiation was effected by the vicarious punishment of a victim. You remember what happened? A victim was taken, an animal was substituted for the sinner, and this animal then became the one who bore the punishment of the sinner. So we are entitled to teach that those Old Testament sacrifices show, very plainly and clearly, that it is because the animal was substituted for the offender and his sin was dealt with in the animal, that his guilt was expiated, and God was propitiated with respect to him.
So the last thing the sacrifices teach is that the effect of such sin offerings and burnt offerings was the pardon of the offender and his restoration to communion with God.
If you study the book of Leviticus you will find that that was the great function and purpose of those sin offerings, and the burnt offerings in particular. Sin was dealt with in a substitute and the result of that was that the sins of the people were covered and they were restored to a position in which they could be blessed by God. There is a phrase in Hebrews 9:22 which sums all that up: `without shedding of blood is no remission'. That is the great message of the Old Testament. That is why God, through Moses, commanded the children of Israel to take all those animals and kill them and offer their blood. And all the ceremonial, which people so often omit in their reading of the Bible because, they say, `It has nothing to do with me,' has everything to do with us! God was teaching the people that `without shedding of blood is no remission' of sin. The Old Testament sacrifices were pointing forward to the perfect sin offering that was to come; they are types of the Lord Jesus Christ in His death.
That is the first major principle, now let us come to the second. The New Testament teaches specifically that Christ saves us by His death---that is its essential teaching. There is so much Scripture which could be quoted at this point; let me just give you the most important references. In John 1:29 we read: `Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.' Here John the Baptist describes Him as `the Lamb of God', going back to those Old Testament lambs that were offered. Take also Paul's words to the Corinthians: `Christ our passover is sacrificed for us' (1 Corinthians 5:7). Or again, Romans 3:25: `Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation ... for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God.'
Then there is Romans 5:6: `For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly,' and the same thing is repeated in the tenth verse of that fifth chapter: `For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.' Again, Galatians 1:4 reads, `Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father.' And Paul says in Ephesians 1:7, `In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace.'
Ephesians 2:13 says, `But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.' The `blood of Christ' means life laid down, and in the epistle to the Hebrews you find this stated almost everywhere, especially in Hebrews 9:12: `Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.' He has obtained eternal redemption for us by laying down His life on our behalf. The fourteenth verse in the same chapter is of equal significance: `How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God.'
The tenth chapter of the epistle to the Hebrews also has a very important statement here: `By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all' (v. 10); then: `But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God' (v. 12); and: `For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified' (v. 14). (Notice the repetition of the word one.) Peter, too, says the same thing: 'Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things ... but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot' (1 Peter 1:18-19). You see, we cannot understand these terms unless we are familiar with the Old Testament.
Then take 1 Peter 3:18: `For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit,' and 2 Peter 2:1 says: `But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.'
The apostle John writes, `But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin' (1 John 1:7); and in the book of Revelation we read, `Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood' (Revelation 1:5).
Now that is a small selection of the New Testament statements, but what a selection! They are some of the pivotal passages that at once bring before us the idea of the substitute and the penal suffering, the bearing of the guilt and the guilt being punished in the substitute. And you notice the repetition of the blood. I have known people who have called themselves Christian who have said that they dislike this thought about the blood. But apart from the blood we have no redemption! `In whom we have redemption through his blood.' It is by the precious blood of Christ, the laying down of the life, the poured out life, that our redemption is secured.
But let us go on to the third proposition. The New Testament terms that are applied to Him and to His work for us and on our behalf prove the truth of this doctrine. Take first the word ransom. You will find that mentioned in Matthew 20:28: `Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many'; and in 1 Timothy 2:5-6: `There is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.' And what is a ransom? It is a price paid for liberating either a person or thing that has been taken or possessed by another. And the teaching here is that Christ, by His death, looses our bonds and sets us free, who were prisoners; and that He does so by paying the price; and the price He has paid is His own precious blood. 'Ye are not your own,' says Paul.
`For ye are bought with a price' (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Again, Peter puts it, 'Ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold ... but with the precious blood of Christ' (1 Peter 1: 18-19)---ransom money has been paid and the captives are set free.
The word redemption has the same idea. You redeem something by paying a price to get it back, and it has come back to you.
The next word is propitiation. This is mentioned in Romans 3:25: `Whom 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'; and in 1 John 2:2: `And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.' Now a propitiation is an appeasing, or the means of appeasing. The offering was taken by God and it was meant to appease the wrath of God. There are some who say that the meaning of the term is derived from the `mercy seat', or the lid of the ark of the covenant which was in the Holiest of Holies in the Temple. Once a year, on the Day of Atonement, the high priest sprinkled sacrificial blood upon it to cover the sins of the people. Our Lord's death is that by which God covers, overlooks and pardons, our sins. Indeed, the teaching goes further in the New Testament dispensation: our sins are blotted out, so that a penitent and believing sinner is again reconciled to God.
And that is the next term---reconciliation. You will find it in Romans 5:10: `For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.' And it is also to be found several times in 2 Corinthians 5:18-19. Those, then, are certain terms that we have to reckon with---ransom, redemption, propitiation and reconciliation and each time they refer to His death.
But let us come to the fourth proposition. There are certain crucial New Testament terms which teach substitution and specifically emphasise the vicarious element in His death. He is one who acts for us. First of all, again consider the Old Testament types. Those Old Testament animals that were offered were vicarious and the way we prove that is this: the priest was commanded to place his hands upon the head of the beast. Why was that? It was to transfer the people's guilt on to the beast and the beast was then killed. Yes, but before it was killed, their sins had been transferred to it---it was the substitute.
So our sins have been laid on the Lord Jesus Christ and He has borne them. Isaiah 53 is a crucial passage here. `The Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all' (v. 6); this verse specifically says that our sins have been laid on Him; and it is there again in verse 12: `Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath 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.' Again I would remind you of John 1:29: `Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world'; 2 Corinthians 5:21: `For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of. God in him'; and Galatians 3:13: `Christ 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.' We are told that we are delivered from the curse of the law because Christ has been made a curse for us. Again, you will find it in Hebrews 9:28: `So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many'; and 1 Peter 2:24: `Who 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.' The teaching is quite clear: the guilt of our sin is now transferred to Him; He becomes liable for the punishment that was due; our sins are imputed to Him.
Then the next evidence under this heading is to be found in particular words which are translated by the word for. There are three different words in the Greek which are translated in our English Bible as `for'. One means `on account of'. You get that, for instance, in Romans 8:3: `for [on account of] sin', and in Galatians 1.4: `who gave himself for our sins'; and again in 1 Peter 3:18 where we are told, `For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God'---suffering for us, you notice it each time. Then there is the statement in 1 Corinthians 15:3: `For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures.' He has fulfilled the Old Testament sacrifices, and again we find in 1 John 2:2: `He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.'
Another word which is translated `for' means `on behalf of', or, `for the benefit of'. In other words, the idea of substitution comes in very strongly here. We see it in 2 Corinthians 5:14: `For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead.' Verses 20 and 21 continue: `Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God. For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.' This is constantly repeated, for example, we see it again in 1 Timothy 2:5-6 and in 1 Peter 3:18.
But the strongest of these words translated `for' is the one which is found in Matthew 20:28 and Mark 10:45: `Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.' In its fullest sense it means, `as a substitute for' many. So there is the evidence which specifically teaches His substitution and all these passages emphasise the vicarious element.
The fifth evidence is that there are numbers of statements which emphasise our union with the Lord Jesus Christ. The main place you find this, of course, is in the epistle to the Romans, in the great argument in the fifth chapter, beginning at verse 11, and especially in verse 12. The argument is this: that just as we all were responsible for Adam's sin, and died according to the similitude of Adam's transgression, so we are saved by Christ. Take the one sentence: `For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous' (v. 19). The teaching is that the whole human race is in Adam so, when Adam fell, we all fell. Then the other side is that all who are in Christ have the full benefit of everything He has done; in other words, when He died, they died.
And that is still more clear in Romans 6:3-8:
Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin. Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him.
You see the argument? We are in Christ; we are a part of Him; we are one with Him; we are identified with Him; as we were in Adam, so we are in Christ.
That again is the great argument of 1 Corinthians 15, the great passage on the resurrection: `As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive' (v. 22). He acts on our behalf, we have died with Him, we rise with Him, we are in Him and belong to Him---a most important and vital argument.
But I cannot stay with that because I must hurry to the sixth proposition or argument. All the statements which tell us that His death liberates us from the law are of crucial importance. All the statements that show that He has set us free from the law teach this same substitution and penal idea of the atonement. `For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace' (Romans 6:14); in other words, He has delivered us from the law. And there are other arguments that show the same thing. Take the one in Romans 7, the first part particularly, where our position, before He saves us, is compared to a married woman. She is bound as long as her husband is alive, but if he dies she is free. So we were bound by the law, but have been set free by Christ's death.
In 2 Corinthians 5:19 we read, `To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.' That, too, is an important statement. We are told that our trespasses had been imputed unto us because they belonged to us, but that is no longer so---why? Because He has been made sin for us. God has imputed our sins to Christ. He has punished them in Christ and now He does not impute our sins to us, but imputes to us the righteousness of His own Son. Again, take Galatians 2:19-20: `For I through the law,' says Paul, 'am dead to the law, that I might live unto God'---because of what Christ has done, he has died with Christ---`I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.' He has set me free from the law. `Christ 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). What can be stronger than that?
Now all these passages show that He has delivered us from the law, the penalty of the law, the penalty of our guilt, the curse. It cannot be more specific, but still I want to go on to a final statement or proposition and, in many ways I think that this is the most important of all. There are a number of statements which emphasise the Godward aspect and God's activity in the death of our Lord. You see the importance of that? All those false theories kept looking at us, and if they did not look at us, they started looking at the Lord Himself. But I shall give you statements which show that God the Father was in this.
First of all, certain Scriptures teach us that it was in God's mind and plan before the foundation of the world---there is an eternal aspect to what happened on the cross on Calvary's hill. Take Acts 2:23: `Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain.' It was the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God that sent Him to the cross. Or 1 Peter 1:20 says: `Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you'---it was planned before the foundation of the world. And again we read in Revelation 13:8, `And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.' There are some who say that that should have been rendered, ‘. . . whose names are not written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb slain'. It does not matter which, the fact is that names were written in the book of life before the foundation of the world and when He did that, He did it because He knew that that person was to be covered by the death of His only begotten Son.
But let me end by giving you this specific statement which literally tells us that it was God who was doing this thing on Calvary: Isaiah 53:6: `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.' But have you ever realised that John 3:16 says this? `For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son' ---to the death of the cross---it is God who gave Him. Take again Romans 3:25: `Whom 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'---there it is again. Or Romans 8:32: `He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?' He, God, He `spared not His own Son but delivered Him'---it was God who did it.
Then there is that great statement in 2 Corinthians 5:18-19, `And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation. To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself . . .' It was God who was doing it, God the eternal Father. God was doing this by means of the cross, through Christ.
And then, above them all there is the last verse of 2 Corinthians 5, `For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him' (v. 21). You will never find anything stronger than that and any view you might hold of the atonement must cater for that. Indeed, I feel that that one verse is enough. There it is, a specific statement of the eternal Father: He made Him sin, He imputed the guilt of our sins to Him; He put them upon Him; and then He tells us that He punished them in Him. Any idea or theory of the atonement must always give full weight and significance to the activity of God the Father.
In my next lecture I will go on to one final piece of scriptural evidence which I think will clinch this debate for you. (317-327)
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