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Christ’s Doctrine of the Atonement

(25 posts)

No Lttle Sins

Not every word in the dictionary describes an actual existant thing. For example: unicorns, leprechauns, and peccadillos. And there are no sins venial in their own nature. Nay, he who offends in one point is guilty of all; because the mental state from which the is obedience flows argues an inward contrariety to the nature and will of God (Jas. ii. 10). The only position which can be laid down as to the criminality of sin is this: the guilt of the offence is proportioned to the greatness, the moral excellence, and glory of Him against whom the offence is committed, and who made us for loyal obedience to Himself. Nothing else therefore comes into consideration in estimating the enormity of sin but the infinite majesty, glory, and claims of Him against whom we sin. —George Smeaton, Christ’s Doctrine of the Atonement (Banner of Truth, 2009), 21.

Atonement Assumed

Jesus never spoke at great length on the necessity of atonement. His Jewish audience, steeped in Old Testament Law, knew it well. That a sacrifice was needed to make satisfaction for sin was never in question. Our Lord, in addressing a people familiar with the ideas of sacrifice, did not deem it necessary to [focus]* on the necessity of an atonement, and for the most part narrowed the allusion to the sacrifice of Himself, assuming the necessity as an undoubted truth. God had from the first sought to develop the idea of sin among the chosen people, and to keep their consciences alive to the fact that it must needs be expiated by propitiatory sacrifices. Many laws were enacted for the purpose of awakening a sense of want: civil and ecclesiastical privileges were withdrawn for the violation of these laws, and many afflictive visitations were sent. The government of God was ever anew violated by sinful deeds or transgressions of the law, and in all such cases fellowship with God was foreclosed. Every Jew was aware that, in consequence of a transgression, he was liable to the penalty which must follow; and, in a word, that there was no enduring covenant, and no free access to the Holy One, without a complete fulfilment of the law. No approach could otherwise be allowed to God's presence in the sanctuary services; and there was, besides, a conscious guilt, which tended to estrange the sinner from God, and to make him apprehensive. This was an education of the people in the knowledge of sin. To meet this deep-felt need of pardon, and as a method of remitting the penalty incurred by a violation of the letter, sacrifices were appointed, which operated on the conscience of the Jew in a peculiar way. They gave him a vivid view of the guilt of sin, and of the rectitude and holiness of the Divine government. The whole Old Testament was thus calculated to bring into prominence the necessity of an atonement, and to sharpen the conviction that sin required a higher sacrifice; and the sacrifice, presupposing the sinful deed, showed the inviolability of the law and covenant. If the Jewish worshippers neglected the sacrifices of atonement, they incurred the curses of the law. If they brought the sacrifices, they were purged from their defilement, and had access reopened to God in the sanctuary service, without impediment from without or fear from within. With this doctrine of sacrifice the Jewish mind was familiar. They all admitted the necessity of a sacrifice of atonement in order to avert punishment. This was the great idea for the full development of which the nation had been peculiarly separated from other people, and which was to be learned by them in order to be diffused over the earth. They acknowledged these atonements as the method of averting the threatened penalty, however much they perverted them from the Divine purpose for which they were appointed by extending their effects to moral trespasses, instead of limiting them, as they should have done, to ceremonial defilement. They held the necessity of expiation; and our Lord, accordingly, in speaking to them, proceeds on this conceded truth. And hence His words take all this for granted, wherever He makes reference to His work. With a deeper reference than was commonly attached to the sacrifices, and sounding the depths which underlay them, He throughout assumed the indispensable necessity of an expiation. All His sayings contain this thought in their deeper relation. Thus, when we read of sin to be borne in a sacrificial sense (John i. 29) of a ransom to be paid for the purpose of liberating captives to Divine justice (Matt. xx. 28) of the law, both moral and ceremonial, to be embodied in a sinless life and exhibited in a sacrificial death (Matt. v. 17) of the blood of the covenant which puts men on a new footing, and in a relation of pardon and acceptance, to be dissolved no more (Matt. xxvi. 28)—all these allusions take for granted that an atonement is indispensably necessary, and that the Divine claims must be discharged in full. —George Smeaton, Christ’s Doctrine of the Atonement (Banner of Truth, 2009), 24–25. *Smeaton: “dilate.”

Restitution Required

Sin robs God of the honor and glory he is due. He must be repaid. The point at which the discussion [of the necessity of atonement] must begin is the relation which a personal God occupies to Sin. As the entrance of sin is a [plundering]* of the tribute or revenue of honour which the intelligent creature should have rendered to the Creator; as man was made to render this homage by a pure nature and a God-glorifying obedience, such as a moral representation of the divine image in this world alone could render,—a restoration of this honour to the full, nay, to a still larger degree, is only what supreme justice owes to Himself before salvation can be bestowed. Not that the glory of God essentially is capable either of addition or of diminution. But in reference to His declarative glory—in other words, in reference to what He proposed to make of human nature,—God lost when His rights were denied, and God regains when they are restored. Thus the necessity of the atonement is seen to rest on the divine claims, and on the concrete relations of a personal God to the world. —George Smeaton, Christ’s Doctrine of the Atonement (Banner of Truth, 2009), 29. * Smeaton: “spoliation.”

Necessity of Atonement according to Jesus

What express doctrine is there from the mouth of Christ in regard to the necessity of the atonement? There are various allusions explicit or indirect to the necessity of His atoning death. John iii. 14: “So must the Son of Man be lifted up.” . . . we limit our attention at present to the import of the must here uttered by Christ. Plainly, the necessity is not to be referred to the fact that the prophets had foretold it. Though the faithfulness of God must needs be maintained on account of the type, there was a further reason, which must be traced up to the divine decree, and to the divine justice. It was not a mere necessity to fulfil the type, but had its ground in the purpose of redemption, and in the end to be attained. Some, toning down the language, would represent it as arising from the present condition of the world, as if the cross were only an occurrence befalling Him in a world of rebels, and where all was out of course. But that does not approach the meaning; and the history of Jesus shows that, except in so far as He chose to subject Himself to the course of things, He was exempt from their power, and beyond their reach. They could not touch Him till His hour was come. The words here uttered mean, that in order to heal and save, He must needs be crucified,—the must indicating a necessity flowing from God’s justice, and from His decree, if men were to be saved. . . . Matt. xxvi. 42: “If it be possible, let this cup pass from Me.” The argument from this utterance of Christ for the necessity of His atoning work is of the strongest. There can be no reason assigned why the cup did not pass from Him, except that the divine claims required the endurance for the expiation of sin. The only-begotten Son, notwithstanding this request to the Father, who always heard Him, must drink the cup. And to say that the impossibility of removing it did not spring from the divine justice, is plainly untenable. It cannot be supposed that, except on the ground of indispensable necessity, God would be so inflexible as to visit His Son with all that was comprehended in that cup. The suffering was indispensable—the atonement was necessary—that the cup of suffering might pass from His people. The same thing is proved by passages which describe the irremediable consequences of neglecting the atoning work of Christ. The result of not believing on the crucified Christ is condemnation (John iii. 18). Mark viii. 37: “What shall a man give in exchange [better, what ransom shall a man give] for his soul?” These words occur in a connection which contains an allusion to the rejection or denial of Christ, and are intended to teach that there is a ransom attainable through the reception of Christ, but no ransom to such as neglect the opportunity, or depart this life without finding the only sacrifice. He virtually says, There is no more sacrifice for sin, since they have denied Me, the only ransom or means of deliverance. But this indisputable allusion to a ransom, takes for granted its necessity,—implying that it is only found in Jesus, who has expiated sin, and paid the ransom in the sinner’s place. —George Smeaton, Christ’s Doctrine of the Atonement (Banner of Truth, 2009), 37–39.

Reading between the Lines

The terms commonly used in the doctrinal discussion of the atonement, and drawn from Bible phraseology, such as Surety, Mediator, High Priest, Advocate—all representing Him as our substitute, who appears in the presence of God for us, and conducts our cause,—are not indeed found in the Lord’s own words descriptive of Himself. But, beyond question, the thing is there; and He acts as fully conscious that, except through Himself, as Mediator, God could have no intercourse with man, nor man with God. He understands and consults the best interests of His people in every respect: He took flesh, and knows the infirmities of human nature by personal experience, that He may sympathize with their condition, and compassionately conduct their concerns: He was lawfully called and appointed to this function. And not only so: the sacrificial language, which we find Him so frequently using, implies a Priest, though he does not expressly appropriate the term. These titles, both numerous and various, imply that He had a relation to mankind which is unique; that He stood between God and man; that He was not an individual unit of the race, as all the negative theology represents Him; but acting in a representative capacity for it. He assumes a position that no one but Himself could dare to occupy. Thus, when He calls Himself the way, in the saying, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John xiv. 6), He means that He is the exclusive Way; not only paving the way for others, but constituting, in His own person and work, the only way by which any could have access to God. That this is the meaning is evident from the subjoined words, “No man cometh unto the Father but by Me.” Could Christ affirm this of Himself, if He were nothing more than a teacher, an example, or a merely human founder of a new religion? Certainly not. It could not be maintained that there never was any other teacher, or that Moses, David, and the prophets were in no wise either commissioned or fitted to point out the way of acceptable worship. Neither could the words hold, if they were interpreted of Jesus as an example or as the founder of a new religion. There are other examples, though by no means so perfect as He; and were He only, like Moses, the instrument or founder of a new religion, men might accept the religion, and without much injury forget the founder. But the Lord says that He cannot be omitted, forgotten, or superseded, and that from first to last no man approaches God but by Him. This shows Him to be a Mediator, a High Priest, or introducer on the ground of His person and work, and cannot be affirmed of any prophet or apostle that ever trod the earth. —George Smeaton, Christ’s Doctrine of the Atonement (Banner of Truth, 2009), 52–53.

Who Killed Jesus?

When we inquire by whom the Messiah was brought into the humiliation of actual death, we find that though dogs are said to compass Him [Psalm 22:16],—that is heathen soldiers acting against Him; though the assembly of the wicked are said to inclose Him,—that is the company of the chief priests and their faction,—yet Messiah's death is emphatically ascribed to God Himself; “Thou hast brought Me.” Properly speaking the Lord was not overcome by His enemies. They could have had no power at all to exercise over Him but for His voluntary undertaking, and the consequent judgment exercised upon Him by the righteous Father. This is put beyond doubt by His own reply to Pilate (John xix. 11), and by Peter’s exposition (Acts ii. 23). . . . But this substitution was no make-believe, no mere semblance, but a true exchange of places—the most real of facts. He was accounted as the sinner not by a mere as if He were so, but because He was made sin (2 Cor. v. 21), and hence was treated as a sinner. And all this was not by a mere Divine permission allowing a free rein to human wickedness, but by God’s determinate counsel. That we may have no doubt of this, we shall have to trace in His soul-trouble a direct infliction from the hand of God. —George Smeaton, Christ’s Doctrine of the Atonement (Banner of Truth, 2009), 87, 95.
Smeaton on the meaning of “to bear sin”: But the phrase, “to bear sin,” demands more particular consideration. Wherever the language occurs, it carries with it the notion of an oppressive burden, or of penal endurance. But let us consider the phrase in examples. It occurs, first, in the sense of living under the frown or punitive hand of God: thus the Israelites “bore their iniquity” according to the number of the days in which they had searched out the land, each day a year (Numb. xiv. 34): it is used as synonymous with being guilty (Lev. v. 17; Num. v. 31): it is found as equivalent to being cut off (Lev. xx. 17; Num. ix. 13): it occurs in the sense of being punished with death (Num. xviii. 22, 32. Compare also Ex. xxviii. 43; Lev. xxiv. 15). In all these instances it refers to a person bearing his own sin. Where the reference, again, is to the sins of others, it means to undergo punishment for them, or to feel the penal effects and the unpleasant consequences due to the sins of others (Lam. v. 7; Ezek. xviii. 19). Hence, if we abide by the usage of language, the phrase can only mean, in this passage, to endure the penal consequences inseparable from the sins of mankind. And as to the origin of the figure, it is taken from lifting a burden in order to carry it, or to lay it on one’s shoulders. But as the language is sacrificial, it points to the victim bearing the sin which the offerer laid upon it, by the laying on of the hand. The language, rightly understood, can only mean that Jesus was put in connection with sin; that He took Sin as such, and not the mere consequences of it, or the element of punishment alone; that He bore sin considered as guilt in its relation to the moral Governor; that He was made the world’s sin, and bore it,—thus becoming, not personally but officially, the proper object of punitive justice, and enduring the penalty due to the sins of mankind. The words prove that the work of Christ was a provision for sin as such,—that is, for sin considered as demerit and guilt; and only as the atoning work of Christ is adapted to this end, and divinely accepted, does it reverse the consequences of sin. A canon of easy application is, that the interposition of Christ implies that the burden of sin which was transferred to Him pressed heavily on the world, that mankind could not rid themselves of it, and could do nothing to remove it; and the language implies that the Lamb of God made it His—His heritage or property,—bearing in His own person what we had committed. It must be noticed, further, that the verb beareth, which is in the present tense, is not used as a prophecy, neither as an allusion to the constant efficacy of the sacrifice, but as indicating that Jesus was even then the sin-bearer. He never in fact appeared “without sin” during His humiliation (Heb. ix. 28); and His coming in the likeness of sinful flesh was at once a proof that sin was borne by Him, and that this was already a part of His satisfaction. He was, even then, bearing sin, and many of the penal effects of it. It is a mistake to say, then, that the thought of the passage is an allusion to the abolition of sin; for the first idea of a sin-offering was not so much the consuming of moral evil—though that undoubtedly follows, and is a necessary consequence at the next remove—as the bearing of guilt. And an Israelite dreading divine wrath ever thought of the sin-offering in this light, as liberating him from its burden or pressure. —George Smeaton, Christ’s Doctrine of the Atonement (Banner of Truth, 2009), 100–102.

On “Son of Man”

A few interesting observations on the use of the title “Son of Man”: 1. It must strike every one who attentively examines our Lord's use of this title, that we never find it used after His resurrection. The reason seems to be, that it was not descriptive of His resurrection state; that it belonged only to the days of His flesh; and that when He had left behind Him the servant form in which He appeared among men there was no longer any occasion for using it. This is further confirmed by a striking expression which He addressed to the disciples in the hearing of the Pharisees: “The days will come when ye will desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and ye shall not see it” (Luke xvii. 22); which can only mean one of those days they then enjoyed, or the days of His flesh. They would wish them back again. This decides on the meaning of our phrase. 2. Nor does He ever use the expression, Son of Man, in His prayers to God,—as if it were not in keeping with the peculiarly close relation subsisting between Him and God the Father. It is descriptive of what is official rather than personal, or of what He became rather than of what He was. 3. Neither does He use it in His capacity of teacher. When announcing any truth, or expounding any principle of duty, He says, “Verily, verily, I say unto you.” It is no exception to this observation, that we find Him saying in the parable of the tares, “The Sower of the good seed is the Son of Man.” For that allusion is not to the function or office of a teacher dealing with all men indiscriminately, but to the efficacious illumination which the Lord dispenses as the head of His Church, on the ground or basis of the priestly work which He had already finished. 4. Another observation forces itself on the attention of every one who examines the several passages where this phrase occurs. It is a title used almost exclusively by Christ Himself. He is seldom or ever so called by His disciples. He appropriates to Himself the title, Son of Man, as the special definition of His condescending grace; and as displaying to those who heard Him not the divine relation, which was natural and proper to Him, but the new condition which He had taken to Himself, and into which He had stepped down, for the attainment of an object worthy of such abasement. And when Stephen on one occasion uses the phrase, “Son of Man,” he nearly quotes our Lord's own words, before the same council, at His trial (Acts vii. 56). And when John, in Revelation, says, “I saw one like unto the Son of Man,” it may be only a quotation of Daniel. —George Smeaton, Christ’s Doctrine of the Atonement (Banner of Truth, 2009), 112–113.
[W]herever [“Son of Man”] is found—whether referring to His poverty or to His betrayal—to His condemnation or to His crucifixion,—it alludes to vicarious punishment. The Lord, by means of this expression, utters His own consciousness of appearing in the likeness of sinful flesh, and states that He passed through the various grades of a humiliation, which can only be considered as the steps of a vicarious curse-bearing life. He intimates, by His use of this phrase, that He not only had assumed a true humanity, but stood in the position of the second man; in other words, was the surety self-emptied and abased. We may put it in many other forms, but this is the sense. —George Smeaton, Christ’s Doctrine of the Atonement (Banner of Truth, 2009), 118.

According to the Order of Nature

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. —2 Corinthians 5:21 On the cross, Christ said, “It is finished”; but the cross is not where he began to bear our sin. He did not first take sin upon Him, or was first made sin, upon the cross. He was not first a man, and at a subsequent period the sin-bearer or the curse-bearer. What has been truly and correctly said as to the assumption of humanity may be equally applied to this. He was not first a man, and then incarnate, or assumed into the personality of the Son; for the humanity never existed but in that personal union. In like manner we may say that the humanity never was without this imputation of sin; for that assumption of sin by which He became the sin-bearer, was in, with, by, and under the assumption of our nature, though the sin is separable and distinguishable from the humanity. Nay, we should rather say that, according to the order of nature, the sin was imputed and assumed simultaneously with His mission, and therefore, in a certain sense, prior to the actual incarnation; though it became His, in point of fact, only with the possession of a common nature. They who limit the sin-bearing to the three hours on the cross—a too widely diffused notion—have far diverged from biblical language and ideas. —George Smeaton, Christ’s Doctrine of the Atonement (Banner of Truth, 2009), 122–123.

The Baptism of the Sin-Bearer

Then Jesus arrived from Galilee at the Jordan coming to John, to be baptized by him. But John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?” But Jesus answering said to him, “Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he permitted Him. —Matthew 3:13–15 This testimony is replete with meaning, whether we consider the occasion of it or the import of the terms. It may be called a key to that large class of passages which speak of Christ’s obedience as the righteousness of His people, or represent Him as made of God unto us righteousness, because He was first of all made sin for us (2 Cor. v. 21). As to the occasion which called forth this saying, we find it uttered on the memorable day of Christ’s baptism, when he came to the Baptist, the new Elias*, the culminating point of the Old Testament prophecy, and its voice. John may be regarded here as the living expression of the law and of the prophets, which had during many ages witnessed to the coming Messiah, and which now, by their greatest representative, were to introduce the Christ into His office. As the Lord Jesus recognised them, so they were to inaugurate Him as the truth of the prophecies, and as the substance of the types or shadows. So close in every point of view is the connection, rightly apprehended, of the old and new economy, that the one is incomplete without the other. But though Jesus was fully conscious of His mission from the day when the boy of twelve first trod the courts of the temple, and declared that He must be about His Father’s business, He would take no steps towards the public discharge of His office till He was formally inaugurated into it by an authorized prophet on the one hand, and by divine testimony on the other . . . The Baptist, as a sinner, feeling that it rather became him to exchange places with Jesus, and to be not the giver but the receiver in the interview, refused, for a time, to confer his baptism on the Redeemer. He could not conceive what the Christ had to do with a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins,—what it was to Him, or He to it. But that reluctance was overcome by the explanation which our Lord subjoined:—”suffer it to be so now”—that is (for the now is emphatic), in my present state of humiliation, and as an action suited only to my state of substitution in the room of sinners. . . . But the Lord subjoins an explanation as to the principle and end for which He sought John’s baptism: “For thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness.” It is not the special act of baptism to which alone allusion is here made. The language is more general, though the occasion was particular. There is nothing to warrant the limitation of the words, which must be accepted in the full force of the phraseology. The Lord had a public confession to make; and the words here used furnish a key to the whole action. We must then, first of all, notice the import of these His words of confession: it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. The Lord virtually says, “It is not unworthy of the Son of God to go down so far; for it is not a question of dignity or pre-eminence, but of fulfilling all righteousness.” The reception of baptism was only a voluntary act, and not a service personally necessary or required on His own account; for He acted of free choice when He became incarnate. But it became Him to fulfil His undertaking, and in doing so He was not free to omit this or any part of His work; for though he was under no obligation to take the flesh, yet there arose a certain duty from His engagement to the Father, from His mediatorial office, and from the old prophecies. There was a certain hypothetical necessity or propriety which required His acting as He now did, if the end was to be gained. It may be thus put: “It becometh me to appear in the likeness of a sinner, and to fulfil all righteousness.” —George Smeaton, Christ’s Doctrine of the Atonement (Banner of Truth, 2009), 128–130. * Elijah

Labor Redeemed

Every aspect of human existence, however mundane, has been redeemed by Christ. He entered also, as we have every reason to conclude, into the primeval curse of labour. When we find Him designated not only the carpenter’s son, but the carpenter (Mark vi. 3), the language plainly refers to the fact, that during the course of His private life the Lord Jesus followed the occupation of a carpenter. We are constrained, both on exegetical and on dogmatic grounds, to decide for this interpretation. There seems no ground to doubt that Jesus earned His bread by the sweat of His brow, whether we look at the plain words used by the evangelist, or at the necessity devolving on the substitute of sinners of entering into every part of our curse. And He has in consequence transformed the curse of labour into a blessing, and sanctified not only manual and mental labour in every form in which it can be viewed, but also the entire earthly calling to all His followers till the end of time. —George Smeaton, Christ’s Doctrine of the Atonement (Banner of Truth, 2009), 138. This should not be taken to mean that labor itself is a part of the curse. Adam was given a job to do in Eden (Genesis 2:15). Indeed, God is said to have completed and rested “from all his work which he had done” (vv. 1–3). He is working even now (Philippians 2:13), and surely, he is not subject to the curse. Work, therefore, is good. The “curse of labour” refers to the difficult and often unproductive nature of our labor in a world cursed with sin (Genesis 3:17–19).

The Humility of Christ

British Prime Minister Clement Atlee was once described (possibly by Winston Churchill) as “a modest man who has a great deal to be modest about.” Whether or not Churchill is the originator of the quip, it is certainly true of all of us. Though we all harbor a great propensity for pride, we all have great cause for humility. Conversely, there is one in whom no reason for humility can be found, yet who embodies the virtue in everything he has done. “I seek not mine own glory” (John viii. 56). In this humility lies the foundation of Christ’s moral excellence. The humility of Jesus found expression in a constant renunciation of His own honour. It shows that He lived in another element and before another public than that of human opinion, which attaches weight only to that which is ostentatious, or comes recommended by success or marked superiority in the race of life. His public before which He acted was not human opinion, but the eye of His Father, before whose perfections all the distinctions of man, as well as all their praise and honour, are little and puny indeed. He did not wish to rise, but to abase Himself: “I am among you as one that serveth.” Though so exalted and excellent, He was more humble than any creature in the universe. —George Smeaton, Christ’s Doctrine of the Atonement (Banner of Truth, 2009), 164–165.

No Abstract Atonement

In our theology of the atonement, we use the language of substitution, and this is appropriate—Christ truly fulfilled the law and bore the penalty of sin in the place of sinners, providing a righteousness that we did not possess, and satisfying the wrath of God against sin. But substitution does not tell the whole story. It was not only for sin in a vague, abstract, indeterminate sense that He was delivered up, but in the room of the sinners given to Him, and whose place He representatively occupied. It was only in their room and stead that Jesus was placed at the bar as a criminal. And this was a real transaction before the tribunal of God, not a semblance of a trial. The sinner was there, but Jesus took his place. And only in this way can we explain either the prophetical sayings which describe Him as wounded for our transgressions (Isa. liii. 5), or those apostolic sayings which represent believers as co-crucified (Gal. ii. 20), as co-dying (Rom. vi. 8), and as suffering in the flesh (1 Peter iv. 1), when in point of fact the Lord appears to human view single and alone in the historic narrative of the evangelists. —George Smeaton, Christ’s Doctrine of the Atonement (Banner of Truth, 2009), 171. Therefore, believers can know not only that Jesus died specifically for us, but that we died in him, so that “I am crucified with Christ” is not a hypothetical proposition that became reality when we believed, but an historical event that actually took place on the cross. “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” Yes, I was.
It was the High Priest offering up His soul to God that said, “Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit.” And He uttered it with a loud voice, to show that strength still remained in Him, and that, by His own authority, He released the spirit from the lacerated and wounded body. The curse was, “Thou shalt die;” and now it was exhausted, and sin annihilated. Now heaven and earth were reunited; God and man were at one again. —George Smeaton, Christ’s Doctrine of the Atonement (Banner of Truth, 2009), 182.

Sanctified to God by Christ

For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth. —John 17: 19 There are two uses of the word “sanctify” in Scripture, described in theological terms as positional sanctification (“the separation or sanctification of the person to God by Christ”) and progressive sanctification (by the Spirit, “by which we are inwardly made holy”). Smeaton defines both, and explains which is meant in this text. With respect to the word sanctify as applied to the disciples of Christ, it is necessary to keep before our minds a distinction which is not always observed, and which, in popular theological language, is too much disregarded. There is a sanctification of the Spirit by which we are inwardly made holy; and there is, as contradistinguished from the former, the separation or sanctification of the person to God by Christ. It is in the latter sense that the word “sanctify” occurs here; and this unquestionably lays the foundation for the other, which is more subjective, and follows in the order of nature after it. The question to be clearly settled in connection with this passage is, Whether are we to regard the sanctification here mentioned as the moral and spiritual renovation effected in us by the Spirit, and therefore the same with what is elsewhere called “the sanctification of the Spirit” (2 Thess. ii. 13), or, to interpret it as a direct fruit of the atonement? Is it objective or subjective? Is it a part of the Spirit’s work, or an immediate fruit of Christ’s sacrifice? It must be specially observed, that in this clause the Lord does not allude to the sanctification of Christians in the moral sense, or in the sense of inward renovation, but according to the acceptation of the word in the old Mosaic worship, and according to its import in the Epistle to the Hebrews (Heb. xiii. 12, ix. 13). It would be a wide departure, indeed, from the true meaning of our Lord’s words, if we should interpret this clause of the inward renewing by the Spirit. The word sanctify, as it occurs in the Old Testament ritual, has primary reference to those appointed rites used for consecrating the whole people, or any individual, to belong to the theocracy in due form. This was a standing won and retained chiefly by sacrifice. And the apostle to the Hebrews explains that, in like manner, the sanctification of Christians, or the dedication of them to belong to the true people of God, and to share in their services and worship, was effected by the sacrifice of Christ. To apprehend the precise meaning of the word “sanctify,” it will be necessary to trace its usage in the ancient ritual of Israel. The two words frequently occurring in the old worship, sanctify and purify, are so closely allied in sense, that some regard them as synonymous. But a slight shade of distinction between the two may be discerned as follows. It is assumed that ever-recurring defilements, of a ceremonial kind, called for sacrifices of expiation; and the word “purify” referred to those rites and sacrifices which removed the stains which excluded the worshipper from the privilege of approach to the sanctuary of God, and from fellowship with His people. The defilement which he contracted excluded him from access. But when this same Israelite was purified by sacrifice, he was readmitted to the full participation of the privilege. He was then sanctified or holy. Thus the latter is the consequence of the former. We may affirm, then, that the two words, “purify” and “sanctify,” in this reference to the old worship, are very closely allied; so much so, that the one involves the other. This will throw light upon the use of these two expressions in the New Testament (Eph. v. 25, 26; Heb. ii. 11; Tit. ii. 14). All these passages represent a man defiled by sin and excluded from God, but readmitted to access and fellowship, and so pronounced holy, as soon as the blood of sacrifice is applied to him. That is the meaning of the word “sanctify” in this verse. —George Smeaton, Christ’s Doctrine of the Atonement (Banner of Truth, 2009), 250–252.

Shadow and Substance

As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life. —John 3:14 15 The brazen serpent was an antetype (earlier type) of Christ. Put another way, the serpent was the shadow, Christ is the substance. Smeaton compares the two. 1. The raising of the brazen serpent on the pole or banner-staff, and the lifting up of Christ upon the cross. These two are related as shadow and substance—the one being prophetic of the other. Nor is this by any means to be regarded as a subordinate point, as certain expositors suppose. For, in the first place, the repetition of the verb “lifted up” in the two contrasted clauses, and then the correlation of the two particles, as and so, unite to prove that the one is to be viewed as type, and the other as [antetype]. 2. The two objects here named were, in two different respects, according to the appointment and command of God, to be regarded with a trustful and confident look. Men were directed to look to them with unhesitating confidence, according to the divine appointment, for salvation. 3. The instant effect of that look was to bring deliverance and health. This is the direct and obvious point of comparison, into which the whole statement is naturally to be resolved. It takes for granted believing confidence in the divinely appointed remedy, but implies that there is an instant communication of life in connection with a look at the crucified One. 4. . . . the brazen serpent was only made like the poisonous serpents, yet without their poison, and that Christ was in all points made like unto His brethren, yet without sin. It is not only warrantable to add this further point of resemblance with many of the best commentators, but it is necessary. It is true, the great point . . . of the comparison is, that the lifting up of the brazen serpent healed the wounded Israelite, and that Christ crucified delivers perishing men from eternal death. But we must also take in this point. The serpent was only in appearance like the noxious creatures that had caused lamentation and woe in the camp of Israel, but not one of them; and, in like manner, Christ was made in the likeness of sinful flesh, or made in all points like the brethren, yet without sin. —George Smeaton, Christ’s Doctrine of the Atonement (Banner of Truth, 2009), 261–262.

A Most Significant Type

As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life. —John 3:14 15 [M]en are saved by a method similar to that by which they were undone; that by man came death, and that by man came the redemption from death. Till the mind is enlightened by the wisdom of God, this seems a remedy running counter to all natural congruity and fitness; for who would expect deliverance from a piece of brass fashioned after the shape of the Destroyer? and, in like manner, who would look for salvation from one carried out to a public execution? But when we apprehend substitution aright, it is a most significant and suggestive type. —George Smeaton, Christ’s Doctrine of the Atonement (Banner of Truth, 2009), 266.

Life for the Dead

“I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.” Then the Jews began to argue with one another, saying, “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he also will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down out of heaven; not as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever.” —John 6:48 58 The inquiry into the proper import of the term Life, as used by Christ, is in the highest degree important, in the present state of exegetical research. That it holds a primary place in Christ’s teaching, and belongs to the fundamental truths of Christianity, must be evident to all who have devoted any attention to the words of Christ or His apostles. . . . The doctrine of Jesus, as derived from this and cognate sayings, may be given in a few words, though the subject is too wide to be fully entered upon in the present discussion. He presupposes man as without life, in the high and proper sense of the term, nay, as alienated from the life of God. The language which Jesus holds on the subject of spiritual life takes for granted that we are involved in death; the term employed by Him to designate that separation from God which sin involves (John v. 24), and which is defined as the condition where men have not the love of God in them (John v. 42). This leaves the heart vacant for any sinful substitute. The fact that life is procured and imparted by the Lord, presupposes a condition of spiritual death. For, according to a canon, of easy and universal application, constantly applied by Augustin and Calvin in their interpretation of the divine word, whatever is freely provided and bestowed by God, is a something of which man is destitute, considered in himself. —George Smeaton, Christ’s Doctrine of the Atonement (Banner of Truth, 2009), 276–267.

The Nature and Extent of the Atonement (1)

There is a considerable number of the sayings of Jesus which bring out, with unmistakeable precision, the efficacious character of the atonement, or that the death of Christ had a special reference to a people given to Him. The redemptive efficacy of His death is described as taking effect within a given circle, and as bearing upon a given company of persons. What is that circle, or who are the parties described as participating in the fruits of Christ’s death? The Lord’s sayings on this point are so express, that we are not left in any doubt whether the atonement was offered specially for the persons who receive the benefit of His death. He indicates that they for whom it was offered and accepted, were the persons who had been given to Him, and to whom He had united Himself in the eternal covenant. All who have a biblical scheme of doctrine, understand, by Christ’s dying for His people, a dying in their room and stead. They attach no lower sense than this to the expression. They hold that Christ underwent the penal suffering which was their due, that He occupied their place as the sin-bearer and curse-bearer, and that He rendered the full obedience which was required; and they hold that it was a real and valid transaction . . . The proper nature of the atonement must first be ascertained before we can advance, with any precision, to define its extent; and when that point is settled, there is but one step to an accurate definition of its extent. . . . the atonement, as a fact in history, is as replete with saving results and consequences, as the fall of man, with which it must ever be contrasted, is replete with the opposite. Its extent coincides with its effects. In the Scripture mode of representing it, we find it placed in causal connection with man’s salvation, as a fact not less real than the fall, and not less fraught with consequences (Rom. v. 12–20). The words intimate, that if the fall was fruitful of results for man’s condemnation and death, the atonement is not less so for man’s restoration. . . . If a causal connection obtains between one man’s disobedience and the sin, judgment, and death in which the world is now involved, a causal connection obtains, too, between the second man’s obedience and the saving benefits in which all Christians participate. If the fall was pregnant with consequences which cannot be gainsaid, and which ramify so widely, that they are everywhere apparent; the atonement of Christ in like manner produces, and will continue to produce, results which are as real, and shall ramify as widely, through time and through eternity. —George Smeaton, Christ’s Doctrine of the Atonement (Banner of Truth, 2009), 366–367.

The Nature and Extent of the Atonement (2)

I have only to advert to the unity of the Surety and of those whom He represented, to prove the extent of the atonement. It is a unity or oneness so close, that we may affirm of the second man, as well as of the first, “we were all that one man.” The thought that lies at the foundation of our participation of the federal blessings, is union, or oneness. We may thus call in the idea of organic union, as well as the idea of a covenant, for they are not exclusive of each other, but rather supplementary. The idea of unity may be said to run through the whole declarations on the subject of Christ’s saving work, whether they were given forth by the Lord Himself or by His servants. On this principle, then, that Christ and His seed are viewed as one, just as Adam and his family were one, the redemption work by which we are saved was incontrovertibly finished by His obedience, and must be held to have been at once offered and accepted in the room of all for whom He acted the part of a surety (John vi. 39). This, however, decides on the scope and extent of the atonement. —George Smeaton, Christ’s Doctrine of the Atonement (Banner of Truth, 2009), 376.

The Nature and Extent of the Atonement (3)

The purchase of redemption and its application are coextensive. The salvation is not won for any to whom it is not applied: the Christ will not lose one for whom He died. All our Lord's sayings assume this, and take it for granted (John x. 15). To suppose the opposite, would imply that a costly price had been paid, and that those for whom it was paid derived no advantage from it; which could only be on the ground that He wanted either love or power. Not only so: a concurrent action and perfect harmony must be supposed to obtain among the three persons of the Godhead. There can be no disharmony between the election of the Father, the redemption of the Son, and the application of the Spirit. —George Smeaton, Christ’s Doctrine of the Atonement (Banner of Truth, 2009), 376–377.

The Nature and Extent of the Atonement (4)

Christ’s intercession is based on the atonement, and could have no validity or ground but as it referred to that finished work of expiation, which needs no repetition. Now, we see from the explicit statement of the Lord, that the intercession is not for the world, but for those whom the Father gave Him: “I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them whom Thou hast given Me; for they are Thine” (John xvii. 9). This decides upon the scope and destination of the atonement for any available purpose; for it will not be argued by any divine biblically acquainted with the nature of our Lord’s priesthood and intercession, that any one ever was or ever will be effectually called but on the ground of that all-prevailing interposition (John xvii. 20). —George Smeaton, Christ’s Doctrine of the Atonement (Banner of Truth, 2009), 377.

The Nature and Extent of the Atonement (5)

To those who allege, in the spirit of the Arminian school, that the love of Jesus consists only in applying the redemption, but not in procuring it, it is enough to say, that love, in the proper meaning of the term, is anterior to both. It would not be love if it were dissociated from the purpose and design of conferring on its objects every conceivable good which can either be procured or applied. And whenever Scripture speaks of the divine love, either in connection with the Father or with the Son, this is the import of the term. This fact, that love is only love to persons, and that the divine love finds out its objects over all impediments, enables us to obviate the two-fold love, which the Arminian writers suppose, and for which they argue in the interest of their views,—one preceding faith, and another following it. The former, they allege, is to all alike, and therefore cannot be regarded as in itself efficacious to any; the latter they describe as an increasing quantity, and as a sort of complacential approbation of a state of mind or mental act which is acceptable to God. But the redeeming love of Christ, as the source of all saving benefits, does not, properly speaking, receive additions or increase, though there may be, and doubtless are, ampler manifestations of it, as well as a keener sense of it on the mind. This is emphatically brought out by Paul, when he sets forth the immutable constancy and omnipotent efficacy of the divine love in a remarkable argument à fortiori (Rom. v. 5–11). He argues, that if God could set His love on the saints when we were yet sinners and enemies, without strength and ungodly, much more shall that love be continued to them when they are justified. The argument is, that if God’s love found an outlet to us when we were aliens and enemies, much more will it be continued now that we are friends. But the foundation of the whole argument is, that His love is special and redeeming love, and directed to individuals, whom God will never abandon or let go. The text on which we already commented demonstrates the special love of Christ (John xv. 13). They for whom He died were the objects of supreme and special love, which of necessity secured their ultimate salvation. For them He must be considered as acting at every step; their names being on His heart in the same way as the names of the tribes of Israel were on the high priest’s breastplate. And the same special reference confronts us in every form. Thus He is described as loving His own that were in the world (John xiii. 1), which cannot be affirmed of all and every man, without distinction, and in precisely the same form. We have only to recall such phrases as co-suffering (1 Pet. iv. 1), cocrucifixion (Gal. ii. 20), co-dying (Rom. vi. 8), co-burying with Christ (Rom. vi. 4), to perceive that He bore the person of a chosen company, who are spoken of as doing what He did at every important turn of His history. It was for His own that He was incarnate (Heb. ii. 14); and He must be regarded, all through His history, as uniting Himself to His own, or as loving His own that were in the world, and loving them to the end (John xiii. 1). This special love, according to which He acted in the name of a chosen company, and laid down His life for them, is a love that finds them out over every impediment or hindrance. And it were to think unworthily of Christ, to suppose such a conjunction established between Him and the objects of redemption, as is presupposed in the very nature of this transaction, without the certain effect that salvation is secured to many by His death. It were as absurd as to suppose a king without subjects, a bridegroom, without a bride, a vine without branches, a head without the members. —George Smeaton, Christ’s Doctrine of the Atonement (Banner of Truth, 2009), 377–379.

The Substance of the Sacraments

The atonement is described as the substance of the sacraments. They have neither significance nor value, except as they presuppose the great fact of a vicarious sacrifice for sin; and to keep the atonement perpetually before the eye of the Church, as the one fact on which our entire salvation rests, not only at the commencement, but also during the course of the Christian’s pilgrimage, the Lord deemed it fitting to institute these two sacraments in the Church. Thus the Christian disciple sees the atonement everywhere, and finds it in every Church institution. It is the one great fact from which he starts, and to which he ever returns. a. We shall notice this fact, first in connection with baptism, which is by no means limited to the idea that it is a sign of reception into the Christian Church. If nothing further than this were implied, there could be no reference to the atonement. But it involves much more. Not to adduce the subsequent statements of the apostles, which affirm that they who are baptized into Christ are baptized into His death (Rom. vi. 3), the Lord’s own sayings upon the point are not obscure. Thus, when He speaks of His disciples baptizing in His name, as well as in the name of the Father and of the Spirit, He plainly alludes to a peculiar relation to Himself in His official capacity (Matt. xxviii. 19); and when He said, “I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it is accomplished!” (Luke xii. 50), He gave His own authoritative exposition of the meaning and import of John’s baptism, as it was administered to Himself. It was a symbol of the way in which Christ was to pass under the heaviest sufferings; and He submitted to the symbol as a token of the readiness with which He submitted to undergo the reality. The baptismal water was an emblem, in Christ’s case, of the punitive justice of God, under which He passed. Christ, the surety, was baptized in His official capacity, and His people are considered to have undergone this punishment in Him for the remission of sins. The water of baptism is a symbol of the shed blood of the crucified surety on whom the curse no more rests. It is blood that has passed through death and the application of which takes away the guilt of sin. The symbol can mean nothing else but this, that His death was ours; the only difference between John’s baptism and that of the Christian Church being, that the former was a baptism for a suffering yet future, while the latter is a baptism into that which is finished. Baptism intimates a fellowship with Christ in His death. The grand fundamental idea of baptism, though not to the exclusion of other allusions, is, that His death was a propitiatory death, and that His people died with Him; and this is specially developed by the apostles (comp. Rom. vi. 4; 1 Pet. iii. 21). b. The same thing holds true of the Lord’s Supper, intended to keep alive, through all the ages till the second coming of Christ, the great fact of His expiatory death. Its primary design was not to commemorate His office as a teacher, but to commemorate and to symbolize His great sacrifice, when He died to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. The words used by Him in connection with it are so express and clear to this effect, that no doubt as to their meaning remains on any mind interpreting words according to their precise significance. They who have a right to the Supper eat and drink spiritually of the body and blood of the Lord, not as He was still laden with the guilt of sin and still under obligation to fulfil the divine law, but as having purged our sins and now entitled to all the glory which falls to Him and His redeemed as the reward of His agony. They identify themselves with Him as passing through death for them. When Christians receive the bread and wine by faith, they are supposed to be made partakers of His vicarious death, and are regarded as united to Him, and as having undergone, in and with Him, all that He endured. Thus, according to the purpose of Christ, both these symbolic actions of the Christian Church refer to the atonement; and they are meant to attest it, whenever they are solemnized. As they perpetually return in the services of the Christian Church, they keep before the eye of believers this great fundamental truth till the Lord come. The meaning of the atonement, its nature, and effects of every kind, the utility of the atonement and its necessity, are all proclaimed anew by every repetition of these sacraments, which are appropriate to the different stages of the Christian life, the one to its commencement, the other to its progress. These provisions keep up a constant remembrance of the cross, shewing that the eye is never to be turned away from the crucified substitute, and are accompanied with the word given to explain them. Hence we may see the rank and place that belong to the atonement. —George Smeaton, Christ’s Doctrine of the Atonement (Banner of Truth, 2009), 393–396. Related: Baptism in 1 Peter 3


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