THE EXTENT OF THE ATONEMENT
RELATION TO GOD AND THE UNIVERSE.
REV. THOMAS W. JENKYN, D. D.
ON THE MORAL GRANDEUR OF THE DOCTRINE OF THE ATONEMENT.
No one can rise from reading the New Testament without the conviction that the death of Jesus of Nazareth is the most prominent subject of it. The language of one of the apostles expresses the sentiments of all of them: "God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ." In the New Testament the ministry of the apostles is designated with marked emphasis in, and bold peculiarity, "the preaching of the CROSS," that is, the report and promulgation of the death of Christ by crucifixion. They openly published the crucifixion of Christ as the most remarkable FACT in the history of God's government.
The CRUCIFIXION Of Christ was of such offensive peculiarity, that the enemies of the gospel had singled it out, as being most notoriously prominent in infamy. It was the death of a criminal, of an odious traitor, or a detestable imposter. It was the death of a SLAVE. It was the death of all others, held by the Jews as alone cursed--cursed by the execrations of a contemptuous rabble, and cursed by the frowns and maledictions of heaven. The Jew and the Gentile, alike, viewed such a death with ineffable scorn, and with a contempt that thrilled the whole frame into rage. Nevertheless, the apostles themselves placed this most offensive subject first and foremost in the topics of their ministry. They unflinchingly and calmly preached "Christ and him crucified;" not Christ and him glorified, but Christ and HIM CRUCIFIED. They did not take their standing on sunny spots in the history of their master, but they planted their banner in "the REPROACH Of Christ," and invited to it the gaze and the scrutiny of the world. The accents of derision and taunt, which jarred against their high and noble cause, were echoed back upon the world, in tones of increased volume and power, till the ends of the earth caught the joyful sound.
Let us accompany the apostle Paul, when about to soar into the bright effulgence of this glorious subject, and when about to train the vision of the young offspring of his ministry to sustain the splendors of the "marvellous light." What an array of means he presents to them, as necessary to the process of training them for this high contemplation! He first bows his knees unto the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that he would grant them, according to the RICHES of his glory, to be strengthened with might, by his Spirit, in the inner man, that Christ might dwell in them by faith, that they might be rooted and grounded in love. And what is all this preparatory training and mustering of energies for?"--"That they might 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." Oh! for an angel's wing and an angel's vision, to survey this vast and stupendous theme, whose breadth takes in every intelligence and every interest; whose length reaches from everlasting to everlasting; whose depth fathoms the lowest state of depravity and misery; and whose height throws floods of glory on the throne and the crown of Jehovah!
Then, there must be something of infinite worth, dignity, and grandeur, in the love. and the death of Jesus Christ above that of all others. If the Lord Jesus were only a saint, a divine messenger, or a holy martyr, what is there in his love or his death above any other? Imagine, for a moment, all this apparatus of means and training instituted to contemplate the death of Moses or Isaiah, or John the Baptist, and into what sesquipedalia verba, will these elevated words of truth and soberness dwindle. Why should it be a stumbling block to the Jews, or an offence to the Greeks, that Christ died, any more than the fact that John the Baptist died, or that Socrates died? Did the apostles preach that Christ died a martyr to his message? And did not John the Baptist and Socrates die so? The entire structure of the New Testament is founded on the fact, that the apostles solemnly announced the death of Christ to be a stupendous EXPEDIENT of infinite wisdom for saving sinners, with honor to the divine government: they proclaimed the crucifixion of Christ to be a lustration, a propitiation, for. the sins of the world. They went forth "determining to know nothing among men but Jesus Christ, and him crucified." Hear their frank and manly confession:--"The Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach CHRIST CRUCIFIED, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness, but unto them which are called both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and Christ the wisdom of God." 1 Cor. i. 22-24.
A ministry that rejected the atonement would never have used the language of the apostles. Never were a band of men so enraptured with their subject, as these preachers of the cross were; and never was there a subject so calculated to enchant the mind, or ravish the affections of the heart, as the Death of Christ.
1. The atonement gives us the most enlarged views of the person of the Son of God. The Scriptures avow that "great is the mystery of Godliness, God manifest in the flesh." The person of Jesus Christ is unique in the universe--unparalleled in all the forms and tribes of being. All forms and grades of existence meet in him. In him the Godhead lives in union with rational life. His character is not that of his NATURE. His character is moral and official: yet his nature as God, and as man, is pure, unmixed, and individual. His character and person once passed through a process of accountableness, trial, and discipline, and now sustain the official employments of Mediator, Intercessor, and Saviour. Yet he is God over all, blessed forever. He well deserves the name "Wonderful." His person was constituted for his work and office; and, but for the atonement, such a personage would not have been presented to the notice, the admiration, and homage, of the universe. Divest this personage of his atoning office, and he is "WONDERFUL" no longer.
2. The atonement has fixed an eternal stigma on SIN. The destruction of fallen angels, the expulsion of our first parents from Eden, the devastations of the flood, etc., were but hints of God's aversion to sin. The notice which God took of sin, in the death of his Son, is the most marked and the most signal. For the offended to call in the mediation of a third party--that third party to be a person of high worth and dignity--and that exalted person to transact the affair of the reconciliation publicly before a whole community--is a demonstration that the offence is regarded as of high criminality and demerit. This is, indeed, the secret of men's opposition to the atonement--it makes too much of what they call human frailties and foibles, but what God calls crime and treason. Everything in the atonement is against sin;--there is nothing in it to extenuate sin. They who see most evil in sin, see most worth and grandeur in the atonement: and they who most love and admire the atonement, most hate and abhor sin.
3. The atonement is the most splendid and magnificent vindication of the honor of divine government. All the judgments with which God has visited this world are vindications of his government; they have shown on what side God is, they have proved that sin cannot be traced to him--they have signified that God will at all hazards defend his law; but the atonement of his Son is the most amazing of all his measures. The annals of his empire present nothing like it. It is so magnificent that angels look to it with admiration. When the Mediator finished this vindication, the physical universe did it homage: it mantled itself in sackcloth, and bowed, amid signs and wonders, to the greater miracle of moral government, an atonement for sin."
4. The atonement brings a greater revenue of glory to God than any other measure. This dispensation eclipses the renown of all the others. In other measures we see but portions of the ways of God. Here we behold all the perfections of God, in transcendent lustre, and beautiful harmony. There is a greater display of public justice in the death of the cross, than in all judicial inflictions. There is more goodness in the salvation of one fallen sinner, than in the confirmation of thousands of holy angels. The equity of the divine government shines with brighter honors in the scheme of sovereign grace than in the dispensation of Paradise. Besides, here, and here alone, is a standing for mercy; here alone she unfurls her ensigns of peace, and sways her sceptre, at once to vindicate the throne, and save the sinner. The attributes, whose honor seemed to require the destruction of sinners, are glorified in his salvation yea, more glorified in his salvation, than they would have been in his perdition.
5. The atonement brings an immense accession of good to the universe. What a universe of death would this have been, if all the evils due to sinners actually took place! But God has thoughts of peace, and not of evil towards us. For "if God spared not his own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him freely give US ALL things." He gave his Son as the magazine and repository of all fullness of blessings. Here are all kinds of good that man is capable of, or can possibly need,--good to the highest degree,--"far above all that we are able to ask or think,"--good distributed with the freest bounty and copiousness for wants in all conditions--good for eternity for an immortal spirit. All this good comes through the atonement of Jesus Christ. The cross received the thunder from the threatening cloud, and gave sunshine to the universe.
6. The atonement excites interest in the remotest parts of the universe. Angels desire to look into it. Philosophers have studied and admired gravitation, and have almost adored the principle that keeps in harmony innumerable myriads of worlds, in the remotest regions of space to which imagination can push. But what is this, compared with the principle and arrangement that makes known unto principalities and powers in heavenly places the manifold, wisdom of God, and preserves the order and happiness of countless intelligences? This as infinitely transcends the other, as influence over MIND surpasses, in dignity and grandeur, influence over matter.
7. The atonement takes for the accomplishment of its designs a vast circuit of dispensations. Its goings-forth have been from eternity. The world was created a theatre for its scenes. The machinery of Providence was constructed to introduce its operations. The Mosaic law was the schoolmaster of its first principles, and the Jewish temple, with all its furniture, was but a scaffold for its building of mercy. Four thousand years were employed to summon attention to its designs. After time has perished, the results of the atonement, like the circles produced in a peaceful lake, will be widening, and perpetually widening, through the length. and breadth of a shoreless eternity.
8. The atonement supplies a stupendous system of motives to bear on the interests of the universe. The epistles of the New Testament bring these motives to bear upon our duties towards God, towards Christ, towards the world, and towards each other in our relative capacities. There are no motives like these, in power and sweetness, to tell on the heart, and to produce repentance towards God. The atonement "speaks better things" than any other measure for the interests of holiness and truth. A ministry, without the motives of the atonement, is a ministry in which the "blood of sprinkling" is hushed and mute. A world in which were hushed the music of the groves, the cadences of murmuring streams, and the dulcet sounds of love and friendship, were but a faint emblem of the sepulchral dulness of such a ministry. It is when the atonement speaketh better things that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation.
9. The atonement is the medium of the most glorious change in the character and the prospects of sinners. "Behold what manner of love is this that WE should be called the sons of God." In this medium the sinner can meet "the consuming fire" without being destroyed. It is a refuge accessible, designed, and sufficient, for every sinner. To what honor will God exalt believers, when even this glorious Mediator will come to be GLORIFIED in his saints! Think what they were when he came to seek and to find them--and think what he has made of them by his blood and Spirit--and you will approve of their having no song in heaven but "WORTHY IS THE LAMB THAT WAS SLAIN FOR US."
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