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Most of the articles on these WebPages have been written by godly men with a central belief in the Lord Jesus Christ. However as with most of us, they may have different beliefs concerning some particular doctrines. These articles have been made available for the purpose of “gleaning the good” where good can be found. I do not necessarily endorse all that is written by others, anymore than I expect others to endorse all that I write.

The Atonement

J.H. Oliphant


  The atonement is that which makes satisfaction for sin.  We must discriminate between the atonement and its effects.  “And to make an atonement for the children of Israel, that there be no plague among the children of Israel when they come nigh unto the sanctuary,” Numbers 8:19 In this place the atonement removed the wrath of God, and the consequence was that they were secured from the plague. 


Also, Numbers 1:46, “And Moses said unto Aaron, take a censor and put fire therein from off the altar, and put in incense, and go quickly unto the congregation and make an atonement for them.” 


This atonement was intended to make satisfaction to God for the sin of the people, and when it was made, “the plague was stayed,” Numbers 1:48. 


                         [Christ’s Atonement for Our Sins]


The great atonement for sin was made by Christ.  Our sin and rebellion against God constituted a permanent bar against all hope of mercy.  God’s mercy is only exercised in the way of justice.  Hence the need of a mediator, one who could satisfy the claims of justice and make a full and complete atonement for all our sins, and give us just reasons to hope for a full deliverance from sin and all its terrible consequences. 


The great work of opening the book and loosening the seals Revelation 5:1-5 was performed by Christ.  His relation to us, and interest in us, his own purity, and influence in heaven, his wisdom, and worth, all fitted him to undertake the work of our redemption.  He is related to us as a brother.  Hebrews 2:11, “He is not ashamed to call them brethren.”  Also, Hebrews 2:14, “He took our nature, our flesh and blood;” in all things he was made like us, “that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest.” 


                                     [The Son of Man: the Son of God]


In a great many places he is called the “Son of man”—Psalms 8:4, and Psalms 80:17; Daniel 7:13.  He was evidently a man, and one of our number.  The Bible shows that he was born of a woman—Mary.  He was nursed and cared for as other babes.   The account given of his birth and conception in Luke 1, is simple and impressive. 


And while he was man, he was God.  Paul, in Hebrews 1, speaks of him as “Upholding all things by the word of his power,”  “Being made so much better than the angels, as he hath by inheritance (or birth as the word implies) obtained a more excellent name than they.”  In this whole chapter he labors to teach that he is the very God.  I know this is a mystery.  That he is God I know the Bible teaches, and I know too, that it teaches that he is man. 


It also teaches that his death is the only source of eternal life; it is an interesting task to study the cross of Christ, to ascertain and understand the reason why his death is of value to us.  I shall try to open up this subject, and shall insist all the way that the atonement and salvation are of equal extent, the latter secured by the former.


                          [Atonement and Salvation Equal in Extent]


1st.  In his work as a redeemer he sustained a representative relation to us, and consequently his death was vicarious, or substitutive.  I know that saints are vitally united to him, which union is secured by regeneration, but the relation I wish here to speak of was not vital, but legal, and is the real ground upon which his work as a mediator is of value to any one. 


The legal relation is the cause, and vital union in regeneration is the effect.  It is of no note to me if there be a great sum in the bank, if I am in no way connected with it.  There is a legal relation between the heir and the estate left it in will, which will ultimately enrich the heir; and so Christ did bear a legal relation to his people in all his work as a mediator, which secures to them the full benefits of all he did or shall do as a mediator.  


Paul has his mind on this doctrine when he writes, “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church and gave himself for it.”  “That he might sanctify and cleanse it,” etc. Ephesians 4:25-26The husband is the legal representative of his wife, and so Christ as our faithful and true lover gave himself for it, the church; he did not die for it, considered as sanctified and cleansed, but in its unholy and unsanctified state.  Certainly the doctrine of relationship prior to regeneration is maintained, and upon this relationship he dies for us with the design of sanctifying and cleansing us. 


In John 10, Christ is frequently presented under the idea of a shepherd, The good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.”  There is a relationship between the shepherd and his flock, though not a vital one, yet it is such a one that he is legally bound for all their misdemeanors.  The shepherd is always looked to for injuries done by his flock; when he makes payment the flock is given up; and so we were transgressors, and under the curse for our transgression, but the great and ever blessed Shepherd has died for us.


Our transgression was such that death only would remove it, therefore he died as a shepherd for us, and his death is supposed to equal all the claims against us. 


                             [Christ Our Representative]


Truly in him, as our representative, we have all died and paid the utmost claims against us.  This is taught in II Corinthians 5:14, “If one died for all, then were all dead.”  If the shepherd paid the debt, then in him, as a head, all the flock paid it.  If Christ died for or in the room of all, then were all, representatively, dead, and all  in Christ met the claims of law. 


The Socinians denied the divinity of Christ, and also denied that his death was expiatory; they claimed that it was not intended to meet the claims of broken law, but was a mere example of heroic virtue; they claimed that his death was not substitutive, and consequently salvation could not result from the atonement as they viewed it. 


                                       [Andrew Fuller’s Strange View]


I have not the works of Mr. Andrew Fuller at hand, but have recently read one volume of his works.  I understand him to deny the substitutive character of Christ’s death.  He seems to hold that his death is sufficient for the whole world, or for many worlds equally sinful.  It is true that Mr. Fuller held the doctrine of unconditional election, and that the Holy Spirit would regenerate the elect.  He also held the doctrine of total depravity, and claimed to be a Calvinist. 


He held that the power of the atonement was determined by the worth or merit of him who died, which is infinite; therefore, the atonement is of sufficient value to save the universe, if necessary.  Upon this he held that salvation was offered in the gospel to every one of the race, although none of the race would receive it unless enabled so to do by the Spirit, and that none but the elect would be enabled to receive it. 


Mr. Fuller is an excellent writer, but it is clear that his position would contradict the doctrine of the transfer of sin to Christ, for if our sins were transferred to Christ and by him put away, then salvation is not merely a possible thing, but a certain one.  Therefore, the power of the atonement is not determined by the mere value of his blood, but by the extent of his representation. 


If he represented the race on the cross, universal salvation will ensue; and if he bore the sins of no one particularly, then no one will be saved; but if he died as a shepherd for his flock, representing his flock, then his flock will be saved.  I say the positions of Mr. Fuller deny that sin was actually transferred to Christ. 


                                               [Our Sins Laid on Christ]


It is difficult for us to see how that sin was laid on Christ.  We can see easily how a debt may be laid on the security, or pass from the wife to the husband, or from the flock to the shepherd, but how is it that our sins (not the mere deserts of sins) were laid on Christ?  Some have held that he bore the mere deservings of sin, but we insist that he bore the sins, and consequently their deservings, for how could he bear the deserts of sin without the sin itself? 


If he did not bear our sins, then the sins of those who were saved never were punished, for they were not on Christ, hence not punished in him; therefore, we are not freed from sin.  We may be delivered from the deserts of sin, but never from the sin itself; we may be pardoned, but on the Fuller plan we never can be justified, for if Christ only bears the deservings of our sins, and leaves the sins upon us, we are not in a justified state. 


The doctrine of justification has given trouble to all clear minds that deny the real and actual imputation of sin to Christ; they see and know that if sin is really imputed to Christ, that it will certainly result in salvation, and hence the Arminian and conditional systems have to go to ruin.  They also know that if sin is not transferred to Christ, then no sinner can be really and actually justified; he may be pardoned, but never justified.


                                [Alexander Campbell’s Peculiar View]


I have been pained and amused to read Mr. Campbell’s peculiar views of justification.  On page 276 of his work on baptism, he, speaking of justification, says it is “really no more than pardon.”  He knew that to admit that the sinner is really justified would also admit the real transfer of sin to Christ, and that sin by him was put away, and the next result would be, the eternal overthrow of his whole system; and, rather than give his own system up, he will virtually strike justification and such words out of his Bible, for if justification means “pardon” only, we have no need of the word at all. 


On page 277 Mr. Campbell says, “Evangelical justification is the justification of one that has been convicted as guilty before God, the supreme and ultimate judge of the universe.   *   *   *   It is utterly impossible that any sinner can be forensically or legally justified before God by a law which he has in any one instance violated.”  Here he denies the doctrine of justification entirely, which of course he must do to save his beloved Diana


For if justification is a Bible doctrine, the gospel is not a mere proclamation of terms and conditions of salvation, as he explains it, but it is proclaiming liberty to the captive, and the lawful captive at that. 


On the same page he says, “If the sinner is justified, it must be on some other principle than law; he must be justified by favor and not by right.”  If the sinner’s sins were laid on Christ, and the law received its claims in Christ, then the very law demands the liberty of the sinner, and his justification is a matter of right, Mr. Campbell to the contrary, notwithstanding. 


Again, on the next page, he says, “Still, it must be regarded as not a real or legal justification, it is, as respects man, only pardon or forgiveness of the past, but the pardoned sinner being ever after treated and regarded as though he were righteous—he is constituted and treated as righteous before God.”  In this he would teach that God treats as just one who is not just, which is a reflection on the sincerity of God.

                                               [It is God that Justifieth]


The question is asked, Romans 8:33, “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect?  It is God that justifieth.”  In this the apostle challenges the universe to lay anything to the charge of God’s elect, and Mr. Campbell comes up with his charge, that they are only treated as if they were just, “If he is justified it must be on some other principle than law.”  Thus Mr. Campbell arrays himself against Paul, Paul advocating the actual and real justification of the elect, and Mr. Campbell affirming it impossible, and declaring that though they are justified, it “is not by right.” 


But the Bible abundantly teaches that God’s people are justified.  The word justifieth, Romans 8:33, is from the Greek Dikaioo, to claim as right.  Webster says justify is to prove or show one to be right, just and conformable to law.  This conformableness to law is the result of our sins being laid on Christ, and this righteousness being imputed to us.  We before remarked that it is difficult to see how our sins could be transferred to Christ, but it is certain the Bible teaches that our sins were laid on him.  In order to do this he must bear a relation to us as a shepherd, in which our trespasses as straying sheep are laid on him and he pays the debt for us. 


         [The Husband Responsible for the Debts of the Wife]


As the debts of the wife pass to the husband, so our sins were set to his account and he bore them, and their due, on the cross.  “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,” Isaiah 53:6.  Here the flock is in trespass and its sins are laid on Jesus; he pays with his own life the price of our redemption; he has a right to redeem because he bears the relation of a shepherd.  Again, He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied; by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities.” 


In this we are plainly informed that he “bears their iniquities.”  If so, they were transferred to him, and this lays the sure ground of justification.  No one can assign a good reason why the many justified in this text are not the same whose iniquities were borne.  He had no sin of his own.  Peter says, Who his own self bore our sins in his own body on the tree, etc. 


The passages that teach this doctrine are numerous.  Read Leviticus 16th chapter, where you will find the offering of the scape-goat described, “And Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them on the head of the goat, and shall send him away by the hand of a fit man into the wilderness,” “and the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities into a land not inhabited,” etc. 


                           [The Doctrine of Substitution]


In these typical services we learn that the sins of God’s chosen people, Israel, were laid on the scape-goat, and so in the Lord Jesus, our sins were laid on him, and he suffered in our room and stead.  “He 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.” 


The doctrine of substitution is taught here—he takes our sins and our place, and stands between us and the wrath of God.  He becomes “a covert from the tempest,” a “hiding place from the wind, the shadow of a great rock in a weary land.”  He receives in his body the full penalty due for all our sins, and now, in his name, we are set at liberty.  Paul in Acts 17:3, alleged “that Christ must needs have suffered.”


Luke 24:46, “Thus it is written and thus it behooved Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead,” etc.  Luke 24:26, “Ought not Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into his glory?”  These places show that there was a necessity for his death; that he ought to die, because he occupied our law place; our sins were made his by imputation, and he must die.  And this he did as a substitute.  If he died as a substitute for us, as a matter of necessary consequence we shall be set at liberty. 


Many who now live have not forgotten the nature of substitution as they learned it during the late war.  When the substitute takes his place, it is a permanent release to the person he represents; the law will not ask for more, it is satisfied. 


                                  [A Ransom for Many]


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.”  Here we are informed that Christ gave his life a ransom.  The word ransom is from the Greek antilutron, and it is a reference to the exchange of captives, in which head is given for head, man for man. 


Our Savior is a ransom for each of us—gives his own life for our redemption.  Such is the perfection of his offering, that it will certainly accomplish the end desired.  “He that spared not his own son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not also with him freely give us all things.” 


There may be passages that seem to favor universal redemption, but I feel sure that there are no passages that indicate that any of the redeemed shall finally be lost.  If we are redeemed, then our redemption is eternal; and if we are ransomed, then we shall “return and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joys upon our heads,” etc.


1st.  The scriptures teach that Christ, as our Redeemer, sustained a federal or representative relation to his people.  So his death was vicarious, or substitutive.

2nd.  Our sins were transferred to Christ.

3rd.  His righteousness is transferred to us.

4th.  We are said to be justified.

5th.  The Bible teaches that there is an inseparable connection between the atonement and the salvation of those for whom it was made.

6th.  To affirm universal redemption is attended with many inconsistencies, and is not in harmony with the perfections of God.


             [Not to Justify Himself but to Justify His People]


Mr. Fuller urges that the atonement is sufficient for all, though only designed for the elect; i.e., that God is sovereign, and discriminating in his application, though general and universal in his provisions.  This seems to me to array one part of his works against another.  It is upon this, he lays the justice of God in the final condemnation of the wicked; but if the justice of God is not clear in the condemnation of sinners, without the atonement, then the atonement is not needed; but if we would know what are God’s rights with sinners, let us mark what he does with his own Son, when his Son takes their place. 


If the life of his Son must go, when he takes the place of sinners, would not those same sinners be exposed to death had he not taken their place?  Most assuredly they would.  It is great folly to urge that Christ’s death for the finally impenitent is necessary to justify God in their condemnation; his right to do this existed before, and this is why his Son came. 


Christ did not come to make it right to curse any one finally, but to secure the salvation of his people.  “He shall save his people from their sins.”  We never can rightly appreciate the grace of God in giving his own Son for us, unless we can admit and understand that our sins were of sufficient magnitude to render our case justly hopeless without a Redeemer. 


To say that Christ, in his death, did as much for the lost as the saved, is equal to saying that his death does not secure any one’s salvation, for if it saves one, why not all?  If I am saved by it and my neighbor not, why the difference?  Evidently the difference would grow out of my own action; that I am more easily touched by it; I was disposed to do my part, or in some way I was more in harmony with the divine arrangement; but this disagrees with fact. 


We often see the hardest of men touched and changed by grace, while others remain in indifference.  We dare not trace this difference to the natural goodness of some and the innate evil of others; nor dare we trace it to the obedience of some and the disobedience of others.  As to our nature, God declares us all alike to be the children of wrath, and he also abundantly teaches that it is not by works of any kind, but that it is of his own grace, “by the grace of God I am what I am.”  It is God that has made me to differ both from others and my former self. 


God said to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.”  This sort of language is very humbling to our proud nature.  Christ on the cross is the great fountain from which flows the great river of mercy to us.  The repentance of every poor sinner who has or will repent, may be traced to Calvary.  All our hopes, all our joys, and all our bright prospects come to us from the cross.  “I determined not to know anything among you save Christ and him crucified.”

(J.H. Oliphant in Principles and Practices of the Regular Baptists 1885—subheads added)