Man’s Repentance & Christ’s Atonement
If Jesus died for our sins, why do we have to repent of our sins?
By Jesse Morrell
An excerpt from, “The Natural Ability of Man: A Study on Free Will & Human Nature.” To Order: Click Here
A Tale of Two Kings
While I was open air preaching at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, I illustrated the atonement by telling the students about the ancient king of the Locrians in Italy named Zalukas.
King Zalukas saw the problem of infidelity within his kingdom. He saw how the backbone of a strong society is a strong family and how adultery had the potential to destroy a society by destroying the family. When there is adultery, there could be children born out of wedlock. This breaks down the family unit.
Good families raise good children who become good citizens, but when the family unit is broken down, civilization is broken down. Dysfunctional families are more likely to raise dysfunctional children, and dysfunctional people contribute to a dysfunctional society.
When there is infidelity and adultery, this also leads to jealousy and hatred, which leads to violence and murder when a husband finds out that another man has been sleeping with his wife.
There are many social problems with adultery; and therefore, for the good of his kingdom, the king outlawed adultery. But laws are not respected or regarded unless they have consequences. Penalties give the law authority and influence. Therefore, the king assigned a very severe penalty for those who violated his law. Those who were found committing adultery would have both of their eyes removed by a hot poker!
A few people were found committing adultery and quickly the penalty was executed. This showed the kingdom that the king meant business. He surely regarded his law and meant to maintain it. It wasn’t long until adultery literally ceased from his kingdom.
One day a man was brought before the king who had been committing adultery. It was the king’s own son, the prince of the kingdom. The king was in a dilemma. On the one hand the king wanted to maintain his law. The authority and influence of his law depended upon the execution of the penalty. If he didn’t execute the penalty, his kingdom would question whether or not the king really regarded his law or not. If the king did not execute the penalty, the kingdom would think that he gave a bad law or that he gave too severe a penalty. But on the other hand, the king cared about his son and was prone to forgive him. The king naturally preferred to show his son mercy.
How could he do both? How could the king show mercy to his son but still uphold the authority and influence of his law throughout his kingdom at the same time? The solution which the king found to his dilemma was a painful one. The king had one of the eyes of his son removed out of his love for his kingdom; and in lieu of the other eye of his son, he sacrificed his own out of his love for his son. He substituted one of his own eyes for the eye of his son. In this way the king showed his care and concern for his kingdom by supporting the law and showed his care and concern for his son by making a personal and painful sacrifice.
Through this sacrifice the king found a way to show mercy to his son by not executing the full penalty of the law upon him, while also expressing to his kingdom his regard for his law and thereby maintain the authority and influence of the precept.
His sacrifice must have made a profound impression upon the minds of all his subjects and upon the mind of his son. The subjects of his kingdom must have been profoundly impressed with the king’s regard for the law. They would not dare break the law themselves, since they clearly saw the king’s determination to uphold and maintain it. They also saw how good their king was and how worthy He was to be obeyed.
Upon the son, his mind must have been profoundly impressed with the love his father had for him. What remorse he must have had for his crime! His disobedience cost his father so much! Out of love and gratitude for his father, he would want to live a life pleasing to him. He would forever see the loss of his father’s eye for the rest of his father’s life. How could he ever commit adultery again after seeing what a great price his father paid? Seeing what his law-breaking cost his father would make him never want to break the law again.
I then explained to the students listening that God gave His universe a very good law for our own good. The law of God promotes the highest well-being of all. In order to give authority to the precept, God has given a severe penalty. The penalty for violating God’s law is to burn in hell for all of eternity. That is eternal death.
At first there were angels who rebelled against God. They were quickly thrust out of heaven and are now waiting judgment day. This showed God’s universe that God meant business. It declared that God valued His law and meant to maintain it.
But then mankind sinned. Mankind was made in the image of God. Men were the crown of God’s creation. God was prone to forgive mankind, but He must also maintain His law. On the one hand, the authority and influence of His law throughout His universe or kingdom depends upon Him making a proper expression of His regard for His law so that crime is discouraged. God must protect and promote the well-being of His kingdom. But on the other hand, God would prefer to forgive mankind by withholding or setting aside our penalty. How could God do both? How could God pardon disobedient men without encouraging the rest of His universe to sin? How could God remit our penalty of eternal hell but still uphold His law and maintain its authority and influence by manifesting His regard for His law? The answer is the atonement of Jesus Christ.
If God simply forgave mankind for their sin by His mere mercy, while the angels who rebelled were kicked out of heaven and are awaiting judgment, this would show an inconsistency in the character of God and would create uncertainty in His universe. Does God punish sin or not? Should His subjects respect and obey His law? The hosts of heaven would be uncertain as to whether or not they could sin with impunity. They might believe that they have a fifty-fifty chance of sinning and getting away with it. If our punishment is going to be set aside, something must take its place to show consistency in God’s character and uphold His law.
When God offered His own Son to make atonement for our sins, He provided a sacrifice which would stand in lieu of our eternal punishment. Catherine Booth said, “The Divine law has been broken; the interests of the universe demanded that its righteousness should be maintained, therefore, its penalty must be endured by the transgressor or, in lieu of this, such compensation must be rendered as would satisfy the claims of justice, and render it expedient for God to pardon the guilty… Christ made such a sacrifice as to render it possible for God to be just, and yet to pardon the sinner.”33
Jesus Christ sacrificed Himself so that we don’t have to suffer the punishment of eternal hell. His suffering and death is a substitute for our penalty, so that our penalty can be remitted by God in the gracious act of pardon. Through the atonement, God manifests to His universe His regard for His law in a way even greater than the penalty of the law upon sinners would have. God showed His love for His universe by protecting their rights and interests by upholding the law while also showing His love for mankind by making such a personal and painful sacrifice on our behalf.
The atonement of Jesus Christ must have a profound impact upon all of the minds of the moral beings within God’s kingdom. Upon the other subjects of His kingdom, or all of the hosts of heaven, they must be deeply impressed with God’s regard for His law and with God’s regard for their interest by seeking to maintain His law. This impression through God’s sacrifice upon their minds is even greater than it would have been had the penalty been simply executed upon sinners. The atonement shows God’s regard for the law even more than the penalty executed upon sinners would shown, because of Christ’s dignity and because of Christ’s willingness.
Now the other moral subjects in God’s moral government would not dare break the law themselves since they clearly see God’s determination to uphold and maintain it. And they see how worthy God is to be loved and obeyed because the manifestation of God’s goodness is evident at the cross. The atonement accomplished the needed affect upon the rest of God’s kingdom in an even greater way than the penalty of the law being executed upon sinners would have had.
The atonement of Christ maintained, not only the fear of punishment amongst God’s other moral subjects, as the penalty being executed upon us would have, but also it gave them even greater motivation to obey God – because they see how worthy He is. Though the penalty might have caused His subjects to fear Him, the atonement must cause them to love Him. The penalty would have shown them God’s justice, but the atonement shows them God’s justice and His mercy. They behold the goodness and the severity of God. A fuller revelation or manifestation of God’s character is revealed at the cross of Christ than what could have been revealed by the mere penalty of the law being executed upon the transgressor.
The atonement not only discourages sin amongst the other moral beings under God’s moral government, but the atonement also has a very deep impact and profound impression upon us who are being pardoned. What remorse the atonement creates in us for our sins! Our wickedness cost our loving Father so much! Out of love and gratitude, those who have been truly converted have decided to live the rest of their lives in a way that is pleasing to Him.
Even for all of eternity, we will see the wounds in the Lamb that was slain. How difficult it is for us to walk the path of sin again seeing what a great price that was paid. Seeing how much our transgressions of the law cost God, we want to never break the law again. We begin to love the precepts of the moral law and respect the authority of the law because we begin to love the author of the law!
Those who love the Lord will hate evil (Ps. 97:10; Amos 5:15). They can say, “I love thy law!” (Ps. 119:97). We begin to love God and His character and come to abhor everything that is contrary to God and His character. We love Him because He first loved us (1 Jn. 4:19). We love much because we have been forgiven much (Lk. 7:47). And those who love Him keep His commandments (Jn. 14:15; 14:23) since love is the fulfillment of the law (Rom. 13:10).
A revelation of God’s benevolent character and a manifestation of the loving heart of God, which was publicly shown and made known at the cross, is the converting power of the gospel. It is that precious and powerful truth revealed to the mind that brings the rebellious will of man into complete submission, unconditional surrender, and loving obedience to the good and reasonable moral government of God. This understanding gives us insight as to why true faith in Christ will purify our hearts (Acts 15:9; 1 Jn. 3:3), sanctify our lives (Acts 26:18), overcome the world (1 Jn. 5:4), result in good works (James 2:14-16), and works with a motive of love (Gal. 5:6).
Faith in Christ is a truly life changing thing! Now that we have put our faith in Christ, the rule of our life should be obedience. Hermas said, “That was sound doctrine which you heard; for that is really the case. For he who has received remission of sins should not sin anymore, but should live in purity.”34 Our life should no longer be characterized by sin. We should walk in habitual holiness out of our love for Jesus Christ and a desire to glorify God.
When it comes to the moral quality of your life, there are only two options. You are either trying to live a sinless life and want to go the rest of your life without sinning because you love Jesus and want to glorify Him, or you are content to live a sinful life because you love your sin and want to gratify yourself. Those who have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit, whose hearts have been changed and transformed by the power of the gospel, are no longer in the latter state described but are in the former category.
The Atonement as Objective and Subjective
The atonement solves all of God’s problems in forgiving mankind. The atonement makes it possible for God to safely remit the penalty of the law by providing a substitute for our penalty and by bringing us to repentance through its moral influence. Christ’s suffering and death brings pardon to our past and purification to our present. The cross brings forgiveness of sins and freedom from sins. It saves us from the penalty and from the practice of sin.
The atonement is both objective and subjective. As a governmental substitution, the atonement is objective. The atonement substitutes our penalty and upholds or maintains the moral law throughout God’s universe, just as our penalty would have. And the atonement confirms holy beings in their obedience towards God. As a moral influence, the atonement is subjective. Seeing what Jesus Christ has done for us and beholding the great goodness and kindness of God brings us to complete repentance so that we never want to sin again but always want to do that which is pleasing to Him.
Knowledge of the atonement draws sinners away from sin and unto God. Jesus said “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me” (Jn. 12:32). The gospel of Christ is the power of God unto salvation (Rom. 1:16). The truth of the atonement is the greatest moral influence in the entire universe. No other truth could possibly influence our will to repentance and obedience as forcefully or persuasively as the truth of the atonement can. If a man is not brought to repentance by the truth of the atonement, after it has been clearly and powerfully presented to his mind, than his case must be hopeless.
Man’s Repentance and The Finished Work of Christ
It is not enough for a person to merely change their beliefs. In order to be forgiven, a sinner must also change his behavior (2 Chron. 7:14; Prov. 28:13; Isa. 1:16-20; 55:6-7; Hos. 10:12; Eze. 18:30-32; Jer. 4:14; 18:11; 21:8; 26:13; Matt. 4:17; 6:12; 11:20; Acts 2:38; 2:40; 3:19; 8:22; 17:30). True conversion is not just a change of what we believe but also a change of how we plan on living.
A. W. Tozer said, “Any interpretation of free grace which relieves the sinner of responsibility to repent is not of God nor in accordance with revealed truth.”35
I have met some who believe that you do not need to repent of your sins so long as you “trust in the finished work of Christ.” They say, “It is finished.” And therefore, we do not need to choose to repent to be saved. Their view of the atonement makes man’s choice to repent completely unnecessary. Their view of the atonement nullifies the necessity of a sinner to give up their sin and obey the gospel. Any view of the atonement which makes it a license to sin, so that we are forgiven in advance, without repentance, or while we continue in our sins, is a false atonement view.
At the University of Iowa in Iowa City a student asked me, “Didn’t Jesus die for all of our sins? Why then do we need to stop sinning?” They view the atonement as a means through which we could enjoy our sin in this life and then enjoy Heaven in the next life. To them, the atonement was not a means through which we could be pardoned if we forsake our sins, nor was it a measure meant to bring us to repentance. Their view of the atonement is nothing more than a license to sin.
This type of view must break the heart of God who gave His Son that He might save us from sin (Matt. 1:21), not help us continue in sin! As the Bible says, “Unto you first God having raised up his Son Jesus, sent him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from his iniquities” (Acts 3:26). As we saw in a previous chapter, Jesus died to make men holy!
God is good and would never help sin to exist or continue! Sin is the worst thing in the entire universe! God is infinitely against it with all of His Holy Being! Jesus did not die so that we could choose to continue in our sins and be protected with impunity or immunity. Jesus did not die to overthrow the moral government of God and help mankind’s revolt against the Lord. His atonement was not meant to be an accomplice, encourager, or supporter of sin. The atonement was not meant to contribute to the moral decay of our race and make this world even worse than before He came. Very simply, Jesus did not die so that we could be saved without repentance or to make it unnecessary for man to change.
The truth is that the blood of Christ does not cover those who continue in their sins. The Bible says, “For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins…” (Heb. 10:26) Only those who forsake their sins find mercy and have their sins covered by the blood of the atonement. As we have already seen that the Bible says, “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are you ways my ways, saith the Lord” (Isa. 55:7-8). And also, “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy” (Prov. 28:13).
Somehow it is passed on as good news that, “Because Jesus died for our sins, we do not need to repent of our sins.” But it would not be good news to God’s universe at all if God gave sinners a license to be sinful, or if men were forgiven while they continued in their sins, or if sinners were going to heaven while they remain in their rebellion! The Bible says that Jesus is “the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him” (Heb. 5:9). Jesus is not the author of eternal salvation to those who disobey Him!
The difference between those who build upon the rock and those who build upon sand is that the former are obedient to Jesus Christ and the latter are disobedient to Him (Matt. 7:24, 26). Those who continue in their disobedience are not safe and secure on the rock of Jesus Christ. Those who do not submit to the Lordship of Christ are not covered by the Saviorhood of Christ.
A. W. Tozer said, “Christ’s savior hood is forever united to His lordship. Christ must be Lord or He will not be Savior. To teach that Christ will use His sacred power to further our worldly interests is to wrong our Lord and injure our own souls.”36
Joseph Alleine said, “All of Christ is accepted by the sincere convert: he loves not only the wages, but the work of Christ; not only the benefits, but the burden of Christ; he is willing not only to tread out the corn, but to draw under the yoke; he takes up the commands of Christ, yea, the cross of Christ. The unsound convert takes only half of Christ: he is all for the salvation of Christ, but he is not for the sanctification; he is for the privileges, but appropriates not the person of Christ; he divides his offices and benefits of Christ.”37
The preachers who says that a sinner can be forgiven of his sin without first forsaking his sin are preachers who, like the false prophets of the Old Testament, do not speak “right things” but speak “smooth things” (Isa. 30:10). They say, “Peace, peace, when there is no peace” (Jer. 6:14; 8:11).
A proper view of the atonement, however, shows how atonement is not at all contrary to repentance or man’s obedience to the gospel but is perfectly compatible with it. Those who have such a view of the atonement as to make repentance or man’s obedience to the gospel unnecessary do not understand the atonement at all. What then is the proper view of the atonement of Christ?
In order to understand the atonement, we must understand the punishment for our sins, that is, we must understand the penalty of the law. Many have failed to properly understand the nature of the atonement because they failed to understand the penalty of the law. If we fail to properly define the penalty of the law, we will fail to properly define the nature of the atonement.
The Bible teaches that the penalty for our sins is eternal hell fire. It says, “And these shall go away into everlasting punishment” (Matt. 25:46). And it says, “Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power” (2 Thes. 1:9). This is why Ray Comfort said, “What then is the punishment for sin? It is everlasting damnation.”38 And John Owen said, “All mankind have by sin fallen under the penalty threatened unto the transgression of this law… which is eternal death…”39 Clearly, the penalty for our sins is not physical death but eternal death.
Some have supposed physical death to be the penalty for our sin. This is a mistake since even infants die before they have a chance to sin, animals die and they have never sinned, and since even Christians physically die though they have been saved from the penalty of their sins. Therefore, physical death is not the penalty for our sin but eternal death is! That is why the “wages of sin is death” is contrasted with “eternal life” (Rom. 6:23). The wages of sin is eternal death.
While physical death is a natural consequence of Adam’s sin (1 Cor. 15:22), and spiritual death is a natural consequence of our own sin (Isa. 59:2; Rom. 5:12; Col. 2:13), it is eternal death that is a direct punishment for our personal sin (Matt. 25:46; Rom. 6:23; 2 Thes. 1:9). The Bible says, “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” (Heb. 9:27). Notice that it is after physical death that men will be judged and will receive the penalty of the law. Therefore, physical death itself is not the judgment or the penalty of the law, since the judgment and the penalty comes after physical death. After the wicked face Judgment Day they will face eternal damnation; and therefore, eternal damnation is the penalty of the law. The sentence for violating law always comes after the court session.
It is impossible to understand the purpose of the atonement without understanding the purpose of the penalty of the law. To ask “Why did Jesus have to die,” and to ask “Why is the penalty of the law executed upon sinners,” are questions with the same answers. What then is the purpose of the penalty of the law in the moral government of God? The answer is that the threatened penalty of the law is meant to be a deterrent to sin, operating as a moral influence upon the minds of all free moral agents. This is why God publicly announces the penalties for violating His law and why He publicly executes the penalties upon transgressors.
God does not execute the penalty of the law for any personal or vindictive reasons (Eze. 18:32; 33:1; Lam. 3:32-33; Heb. 12:10). God says “I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth” (Eze. 18:32). And the Bible says, “For he doth not afflict willingly” (Lam. 3:32). In His love, God is personally reluctant to execute penalties and He takes no personal pleasure in it. Therefore, there must be another reason why He executes them.
God in His love not only cares for the transgressor, but he also cares for the community that was sinned against. God executes the penalty of the law, not for personal reasons, but for governmental reasons (Dan. 6:14-16; Esther 1:15-22; Ecc. 8:11; Rom. 11:20-22; 1 Cor. 10:5-6; 2 Pet. 2:6; Jude 1:7). Hell is referred to in the Bible as a “prison” (1 Pet. 3:19). This shows its governmental relation or its governmental role in God’s universe. When laws are not enforced through penalty, laws are disregarded by moral beings. As the Bible says, “Because the sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil” (Ecc. 8:11). It is the execution of the sentence against evil which influences or discourages men from doing the evil. If the sentence against the evil is not executed, they are encouraged to do it. This shows the governmental reasons for executing penalty – to discourage disobedience. And it shows the governmental problems with forgiveness or remitting the penalty – it would encourage disobedience.
In the story of queen Vashti, she publicly disobeyed a command from the king (Esther 1:12). But her disobedience was not merely against the king, it was against the good of the entire kingdom. There was a governmental concern amongst the princes. “Vashti the queen hath not done wrong to the king only, but also to all the princes, and to all the people that are in all the providences of the king Ahasuerus, for this deed of the queen shall come abroad unto all the women, and that they shall despite their husbands in their eyes, when it shall be reported, the king Ahasuerus commanded Vashti the queen to be brought in before him, but she came not” (Esther 1:16-17).
Disobedience is a public example which would encourage others to do likewise. To disobey the law is to endanger the well-being of an entire community. Therefore, the public example of punishment is necessary to counteract the influence or spread of disobedience. Whereas, the example of disobedience encourages law-breaking, and thereby endanger the well-being of a community, the public example of punishment discourages law-breaking, and thereby promote the well-being of the community. Just as the precepts of law are necessary for the well-being of a community; the sanctions of the law are a governmental necessity for the well-being of a community, because the sanctions are what support the precepts.
The governmental purpose in executing penalties is clearly seen in the story of Daniel and the lion’s den. “Then the king, when he heard these words, was sore displeased with himself, and set his heart on Daniel to deliver him: and he laboured till the going down of the sun to deliver him. Then these men assembled unto the king, and said unto the king, know, O king, that the law of the Medes and Persians is, that no decree nor statue which the king establishes may be changed. Then the king commanded, and they brought Daniel, and cast him into the den of the lions. Now the king spake and said unto Daniel, thy God whom thou servest continually, he will deliver thee” (Dan. 6:14-16).
Nothing could be any clearer than that king Darius executed the penalty of the law, not because he was personally vindictive or unmerciful, but out of a governmental concern. The strength and stability of his government had always rested upon the certainty his subjects felt that the penalty of the law would always be executed. If the certainty of the execution of the penalty falls into question by his subjects, the strength and stability of the government is endangered. It was not that the king had any negative personal feelings towards Daniel which he was trying to gratify in his punishment. Rather, we see the opposite. The king was fond of Daniel and was “sore displeased” at the very thought of punishing him. And he “set his heart” to deliver Daniel (Dan. 6:14), but found no solution to his governmental problem. It is not that the king’s wrath needed to be satisfied but that the king’s law needed to be vindicated and upheld. Darius must not be viewed as an offended individual seeking personal revenge, but as a king with a law and a government which he wants to uphold and maintain.
How does this apply to God? God is called the “Lord of hosts” (Amos 4:13). This means He rules over many moral beings. The moral government of God is not limited to mankind. God said, “I, even my hands, have stretched out the heavens, and all their hosts have I commanded” (Isa. 45:12). This means that the hosts of heaven are also under the moral government of God. The Bible says that the hosts of heaven cannot even be numbered (Jer. 33:22; Heb. 12:22). This means that the moral government of God is massive!
We can clearly see then why the penalty of the law serves a very important purpose in God’s moral government. God must publicly declare, display, or manifest His regard for His moral law in order to maintain its authority and influence throughout His entire moral government or moral universe. He must make these demonstrations of His character in order to keep His law from falling into contempt amongst all of His countless subjects.
The awfulness of crime, the value of the law, and the importance of the precept are all shown in the severity of punishment which is executed when there is a violation. However, these are not made known or declared when the penalty of the law is not executed. Whenever a ruler executes the penalty of the law upon transgressors, he is showing the rest of his subjects his regard for his law and his care for their well-being. By doing this, the execution of penalties is meant to be a public example to deter others from doing likewise.
In the civil government ofIsrael, stoning was meant to be public so that others may “hear, and fear.” And once they were stoned,Israelwould, “hang him on a tree” (Deut. 21:21-22). Stoning and then hanging the transgressor on a tree was a public example to cause all others to fear to do likewise.
Likewise, in the moral government of God penalties are designed to have the same deterring effect. The Bible says, “But with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted” (1 Cor. 10:5-6). “Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come” (1 Cor. 10:11). “And turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, condemned them with an overthrown, making them an ensample unto those that after should live ungodly” (2 Pet. 2:6). “Even as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire” (Jude 1:7).
The punishment of sinners is God inflicted. Therefore, it is God reflective. That is, the punishment which God inflicts upon sinners for their sin is a reflection of His character. It reveals His regard for goodness and His hostility for evil. The penalty that God executes upon those who have done the public harm is a revelation to the public of His great benevolence towards them, by showing His determination to maintain and uphold the law which is designed for their well-being.
God’s moral government is full of moral agents whose wills are moved or influenced by truths being presented to their minds. These truths serve as motives or incentives to obey His law. Therefore, if God is going to maintain His authority and the authority of His law over the moral agents that are throughout His moral government, in order to promote the well-being of His universe, He must manifest to the minds of His subjects His regard for His law so that they do not believe that they can transgress with impunity. He does this either through the execution of penalty upon the transgressor or through the substituted measure of atonement.
This is done lest His law falls into contempt and His subjects are encouraged to disobey. By showing His regard for His law so that His subjects know His seriousness in upholding it, and in presenting to their minds contemplations of awful experiences of pain which are undesirable, which they naturally want to avoid, God influences their will to obey His law and discourages them from disobeying it. Moral beings cannot help but to view their own well-being as valuable; therefore, considerations brought before their minds which show that a certain course of conduct would result in their eternal misery cannot help but to influence their will or choices. Thus the penalty of eternal hell has a profound influence upon the will of God’s moral subjects. This penalty is God’s governmental means of sustaining the authority and influence of His law, so that disobedience to the precept is prevented and adherence to the precept is secured through the execution of those sanctions.
Thomas W. Jenkyn said, “The suffering of a sinner, of one who transgresses the law, are right and good for the ends of the government which we are members. The penalty is inflicted, not for the mere sake of putting the delinquent to pain, nor of gratifying the private revenge of a ruler, but to secure and promote the public ends of good government. These ends are to prevent others from transgressing; by giving, to all the subjects, a decided and clear demonstration of the dignity of the law, and a tangible proof of the evil of crime.”40
It is very important to understand the motive God has in executing penalties because that is the very same reason that God required the atonement. The atonement is a substitute for our penalty, designed to accomplish its purpose. If God executes penalties to satisfy some unmerciful or vindictive spirit in on His part, then that is also why He required the atonement. But that was the idea behind the sacrifices of the heathen to the pagan gods, not the God of the Bible. God executes penalties for the governmental purpose of sustaining His law; and therefore, that is the same reason God required the atonement of Christ as a substitute for the penalty of sinners.
It is not that God’s wrath needed to be satisfied, since God is merciful and can turn away from His wrath when He wants to. It is that God’s law needed to be vindicated and upheld, since the good of His universe depends upon this. It was public justice that needed to be satisfied. The execution of penalties is not the right of the individual transgressed against, as punishment is not to be revenge. But executing penalties is the responsibility of the Law-giver Himself. It is meant for the public’s good. Since God does not execute penalties for personal reasons but for governmental reasons, God therefore required the atonement not for any personal reasons but for governmental reasons. In other words, God’s problem in forgiveness was not subjective but was objective. His dilemma in exercising pardon were not internal to Himself but were external to Him.
Gregory of Nazianzus said, “Is it not plain that the Father received the ransom, not because He himself required or needed it, but for the sake of the Divine government of the universe, and because man must be sanctified through the incarnation of the son of God?”41
Just as stoning in the nation ofIsraelwas meant to be a deterrent, that others may “hear, and fear” (Deut. 21:22), penalties serve this necessary purpose in theKingdomofGod. As we already saw, in the civil government of the Israelites, they would hang the body of a criminal, after he had been stoned, up upon a tree as a public example and warning to others (Deut. 21:22-23). Paul actually refers to this passage in the law when discussing the atonement of Jesus because He was publicly hung upon a tree (Gal. 3:13). Paul’s reference to this passage carries with it this idea of public example. The atonement of Christ under the moral government of God, just like the penalty of the law under the civil government ofIsrael, is a public example meant to honor and uphold the law. It is designed to prevent and discourage others from following in our transgressions.
While I was open air preaching at the Universityof Floridain Gainesville, an atheist asked me, “Why can’t God simply forgive without atonement?” This is a very good question and it gets to the very heart of the atonement itself. The nature of forgiveness is the same whether it is in person to person relations or in government to criminal relations. The Bible says, “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matt. 6:12). In other words, forgiveness is forgiveness whether it is done by a person or by a government. The nature of forgiveness of both is letting offenses go as if they had not been committed. And I can forgive my neighbor or let his offenses against me go without my neighbor making atonement. But God cannot forgive mankind or let our offenses against His law go without an atonement being made, because the relationship God has with the universe is different than the relationship I have with my neighbor. The Lord sustains the relationship of the Moral Governor of the universe. Governmental relations do require atonement in order for forgiveness to occur while personal relations do not. Therefore, God cannot simply forgive mankind without atonement being made the same way that one individual can forgive another individual without atonement being made.
This was the point of Hugo Grotius in his refutation of Socinius. Like the atheist I met on campus, the error of the Socinians is that they viewed God merely as an offended individual. Therefore, they concluded that God could forgive without atonement since any offended individual can forgive without atonement. While it is true that as an individual, God can forgive without any atonement, just as any offended individual can forgive without atonement, but as the Ruler of the Universe God must sustain and maintain the honor, authority, and influence of His law, for His own good and the good of His universe.
The good of God’s universe, or the rights and well-being of each moral being in the universe, depends upon the authority and influence of God’s law. And since the authority and influence of God’s law depends upon the mental impressions that His moral subjects have of His regard for His law, since the decisions of moral beings are influenced by the motives and mental considerations of their mind, then God cannot forgive sin in any way which would publicly dishonor or weaken His law, since the good of His universe depends upon its authority and influence being maintained.
If God weakens His moral government throughout His universe by publicly forgiving sin in such a way as to dishonor His law or encourage transgression, or in such a way as to give the impression that He doesn’t care about His law and does not mean to maintain and uphold it, then He endangers the rights and well-being of all His subjects. This is because His moral government promotes the rights and well-being of all His subjects. Therefore, as a Moral Governor, or as The Ruler of the entire universe, God cannot forgive sinners who are criminals and rebels against His government without a governmental atonement provided to substitute their penalty and sustain the law throughout His universe just as the execution of the penalty upon sinners would have.
The only way that the governmental view or perspective of the atonement can be denied, by the Socinians or the Satisfactionists, is if the moral government of God is denied. That is because if God has a moral government in the universe over free moral beings, then there is a governmental purpose in the execution of penalties and there is a governmental problem in the forgiveness of sins. There would be a governmental problem in forgiving sin under God’s divine administration just as there a governmental dilemma in any administration when extending pardon to rebels and criminals. This would, therefore, be the problem that the atonement would be designed to overcome.
Since the atonement is designed for the remission of sins, and remission of sins is the remitting of penalty for those sins, the atonement must answer whatever problems there are in the remission of penalty; the atonement must fulfill the purpose of the penalty if it is going to be an adequate substitute for the penalty or render the penalty remissible. Since it cannot be denied by any Bible believing Christian that God has a moral government in the universe, since it cannot be denied that God has a moral law and that He is the Sovereign of a great mass of moral beings, it cannot be denied that God has governmental problems in the forgiveness of sin. And it cannot be denied that the atonement was designed to overcome those governmental obstacles which were in the way of pardon. Therefore, the governmental view of the atonement cannot be properly, logically, or consistently denied by any Bible believing Christian.
Punishment has a governmental necessity to fulfill, because if punishment is not inflicted, then the character of the lawgiver will be misunderstood; and consequently, His law will be weakened. This would cause the law to fall into contempt amongst His subjects. For that reason, God said that he would “punish” lawbreakers, lest they “say in their heart, The Lord will not do good, neither will he do evil” (Zeph. 1:12). If God simply did not punish sin, this would give the wrong impression of His character and His moral government or moral law would suffer as a consequence. Punishment, therefore, is necessary in order to express the character of the Lawgiver, to manifest His sacred regard for His law, His hatred for sin, and His love for righteousness, lest His subjects be encouraged to transgress assuming they can choose to disobey with the hope of impunity.
The problem that the moral government of God has with mere forgiveness or remitting the execution of the penalty is that the governmental purpose of penalty would be unfulfilled or unsatisfied. Forgiveness without atonement would encourage rebellion in God’s universe and cause His law to fall into contempt amongst His subjects. Forgiving the disobedience of mankind without the atonement would weaken and dishonor the law throughout the moral universe. Therefore, God has governmental reasons in requiring atonement. Atonement is necessary in order to solve His governmental problems of forgiveness. The atonement must substitute the execution of our penalty in order to satisfy the purpose of our penalty. That way our penalty can be remitted without the governmental problems that mere forgiveness would have caused. Charles Finney said, “The atonement is a governmental expedient to sustain law without the execution of its penalty to the sinner.”42 Through the atonement, the purpose of the penalty is fulfilled without the penalty itself being executed, or even while the penalty itself is remitted.
God must either “shew his wrath” upon the wicked (Rom. 9:22), or through the atonement “declare his righteousness” (Rom. 3:25). To “shew” in the Greek means to “to show,” “demonstrate,” “prove,” “manifest,” and “display.”43 To “declare” means to “demonstrate,” to give “proof,” to give “manifestation,” to give “sign” or “evidence.”44 To show implies the observer. To declare implies the hearer. Who is the recipient of these manifestations of God’s character? Who does God show His wrath to, or declare is righteousness to?
The answer is the moral beings of His universe. It is their minds which are impressed with the character of God, either through His wrath being executed upon the wicked, or in lieu of this, the suffering and death of Christ on behalf of our sins. Paul said, “Christ Jesus: whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation” (Rom. 3:24-25). Christ has been “set forth,” which means in the Greek, to “manifest,” “display,” “put forth,” “point out,” “show,” “demonstrate,” and “prove.”45 John Wesley said, “Whom God hath set forth – Before angels and men…”46 Christ was “set forth” before God’s kingdom or before all the minds of God’s moral subjects, that His righteousness in forgiving us of our sins would be seen by all.
For what purpose are these public demonstrations put before the minds of moral beings? Why are these manifestations given to their minds for consideration? It is to uphold His law and maintain His government. Inflicting suffering for disobedience naturally discourages others from disobedience and it naturally encourages others to obedience. The showing forth of His wrath, or the demonstration of His righteousness through the atonement, is absolutely necessary for God’s moral government in the universe. Albert Barnes said that in Christ, “God had retained the integrity of his character as a moral governor; that he had shown a due regard to his Law.”47
The same influence that the execution of the penalty of the law upon transgressors would have had on the universe is the same influence that the atonement of Jesus Christ, as a substitute for our penalty, has upon the universe. But the atonement actually has a greater influence upon the universe than the execution of the penalty would have had, because it not only inspires fear of the sanctions of the law, but it inspires love for the Giver of the law. The atonement is therefore a perfect and adequate substitute for the penalty of the law, which was preferred by God over the execution of the penalty.
The idea of the atonement is that it substitutes our penalty of eternal hell, fulfilling the governmental purpose of our penalty, so that our penalty can be remitted. Jesus said, “For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matt. 26:28). And Paul said, “And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without the shedding of blood is no remission” (Heb. 9:22). The Greek word used for remission means, “forgiveness or pardon, of sins (letting them go as if they had never been committed), remission of the penalty…”48 The atonement substitutes our penalty, so that our penalty can be remitted and our sins can go unpunished by God’s mercy.
The atonement is designed “to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins…To declare, I say at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus” (Rom. 3:25-26). God must be declared righteous in remitting sins, which in the Greek means in “passing over, letting pass, neglecting, disregarding…”49 The only way that God is justified in remitting the penalty for our sins, in letting them pass as if they had not occurred or in letting them go unpunished, is because an atonement for our sins has been made which substitutes our penalty or replaces our punishment.
The atonement justifies God in the forgiveness of sins. It justifies Him in letting His wrath pass over us. Christ died that God “might be just, and the justifier…” God must be just to His universe by discouraging rebellion, just to His law by maintaining its authority and influence, and just to Himself by manifesting His true character, if He is going to set aside the penalty of hell that sinners deserve in justifying or pardoning them. If God pardoned or justified us without atonement, it would be unjust to His universe because sin is not discouraged, it would be unjust to His law because it is not being honored or vindicated, and it would be unjust to God because His character would be questioned and misrepresented.
It is important that we remember that the purpose of executing penalties is not mere retribution or inflicting pain merely because the subject deserves it. That is why the suffering and death of Christ could be a substitute for our penalty. If the only objective of penalty was retribution, Jesus Christ could not have provided a substitute for our penalty. He was innocent and therefore did not deserve to be treated the way He was. The sinners dying next to Christ deserved to be there and therefore retributive justice was satisfied in their case, but Christ did not deserve to be there and therefore retributive justice was not satisfied in his case. The dying man next to Christ said, “And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss” (Lk. 23:41). Christ was not wounded for his transgressions, “he was wounded for our transgressions” (Isa. 53:5). Therefore, the atonement could not have possibly satisfied retributive justice.
But the objective of penalties in the first place is not mere retributive justice but public justice. God punishes sinners upon condition that they deserve it, but for the sake of His kingdom. Public justice is the grounds or ultimate purpose, but retributive justice is the condition. The primary purpose of executing penalties is public justice. God promotes the well-being of His universe by maintaining the authority and influence of His law through manifesting to all His subjects His sacred regard for His law. Since the atonement is an alternative, replacement, or substitute for our penalty, it must fulfill the purpose of our penalty, otherwise forgiveness or remission would be unsafe.
The atonement was not our penalty, but substitutes our penalty, making it possible for our penalty to be withheld. The atonement was not a satisfaction of retributive justice, but was a replacement of retributive justice, so that retributive justice could be avoided. The atonement fulfilled the purpose of penalty or satisfied the reason behind executing retributive justice, which purpose or reason is public justice.
Though the atonement did not and could not have satisfied retributive justice, since the innocent died and the guilty are forgiven through mercy; the atonement did satisfy public justice. This is because God’s regard for His law is manifested and therefore, its authority and influence is maintained, and consequently, the well-being of His universe is promoted just as it would have been had the penalty of the law been executed upon the guilty. The atonement actually satisfies public justice to a greater extent that the penalty of the law being executed upon sinners would have. That is because the execution of penalties may influence God’s subjects to obey Him out of fear, by manifesting His character and determination to uphold His law, thus presenting to their minds the expectation of awful consequences which are contrary to their own well-being if they disobey His law. But the atonement of Jesus gives them greater motives to obey God, since they see how good He Himself actually is, and how worthy He is to be loved, worshiped, and obeyed. The atonement manifests God’s character in a greater way than the execution of penalty would have revealed. The atonement of Christ satisfies the purpose of the penalty of the law in a greater way than the penalty of the law itself could have.
The precept of the law itself demands that we love God and love our neighbor. The well-being of others is the object which the law commands that we commit our wills to. Since the law itself demands obedience out of benevolence and not out of selfishness, since it demands that we have benevolent motives and not selfish motives or that we obey for the sake of others and not of our own sake, the atonement brings God’s subjects into true subjection and obedience in a way that the penalty of the law itself could not necessarily do.
It is absolutely essential that we understand that while the penalty for our sins is eternal death, the suffering and death of Christ on the cross takes the place of our penalty. Jonathon Edwards Jr. said, “The atonement is the substitute for the punishment threatened in the law; and was designed to answer the same ends of supporting the authority of the law, the dignity of the divine moral government, and the consistency of the divine conduct in legislation and execution.”50 Albert Barnes said, “His sufferings were in the place of the penalty, not the penalty itself. They were a substitution for the penalty, and were, therefore, strictly and properly vicarious, and were not the identical sufferings which the sinner would himself have endured.”51 He also said, “The atonement is something substituted in the place of the penalty of the law, which will answer the same ends as the punishment of the offender himself would. It is instead of punishment. It is something which will make it proper for the lawgiver to suspend or remit the literal execution of the penalty of the law, because the object or end of that penalty has been secured, or because something has been substituted for that which will answer the same purpose.”52
The suffering of Christ was a substitute for the punishment of sinners; it was an alternative to the damnation of our race. His voluntary suffering takes the place of the punishment of the guilty. His suffering and death is an adequate substitute for our eternal punishment because it reveals to the universe God’s regard for His law in an even greater way than our penalty would have. Since the purpose of our penalty has now been fulfilled through this substitute or alternative measure, our penalty itself can be remitted by God’s grace and mercy.
While the atonement is a substitute for our penalty so that our penalty can be remitted, in order to actually have your penalty remitted you must repent of your sins (Lk. 24:47). Jesus Christ shed his blood “for the remission of sins” (Matt. 26:28), but the Bible says that even after the atonement sinners must repent “for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38). Just as it would not be safe to the public for God to pardon sinners without atonement, so also it would not be safe for God to pardon sinners without repentance. Therefore, the conditions of God’s forgiveness are not only an atonement but also repentance.
Contrary to Reformed or Calvinistic theology, the Bible says that the atonement of Christ was made for everyone and was not limited to a select few (Isa. 45:22; 53:6; 55:1; Eze. 18:30-32; Matt. 23:37; Mk. 16:15-16; Lk. 2:10-11; Jn. 1:29; 3:16; Rom. 2:11; 5:15; Heb. 2:9; 2 Cor. 5:14-15; 1 Tim. 2:11; 4:10; Tit. 2:11; Heb. 2:9; 2 Pet. 2:1; 1 Jn. 2:2; Rev. 3:20). “But we see Jesus, who was made little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man” (Heb. 2:9).
Notice that the Bible says that Jesus died “for every man.” Clearly, Paul did not read the Westminster Catechism or learn his theology fromGeneva. Maybe Paul should have consulted with Calvin first to make sure that his statement would be orthodox? Maybe if he only had a copy of “Institutes of Christian Religion” he could have written the Bible better? Of course, I’m being sarcastic.
Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, clearly said that Jesus died “for every man” and not “for every type of man” as Calvinists teach. If he meant “every type of man” he could have simply said so. He said “every man” because that is what he meant. We shouldn’t read the Bible through Calvinist glasses. The problem is that Calvinists have to read their theology into the Bible, rather than to read their theology from the Bible.
When God provided a way for the Israelites to be saved from the poison of the serpents, a bronze serpent was put on a poll for all who had been bitten to look upon and be healed. It was lifted up that “any man” can look and be saved (Num. 21:8-9). Jesus Christ compared himself to the serpent in the wilderness and taught that He too must be lifted up so that “whosoever” can be saved through Him (Jn. 3:14-15).
But just because Jesus died “for every man” does not mean that every man is saved. Just because Paul said, “Christ… died for all, then were all dead” (2 Cor. 5:14), does not mean that “all” are saved. The Bible says, “And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for our only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 Jn. 2:2). Yet we know that the whole world is not saved from God’s wrath.
This is because the unlimited atonement of Christ does not mean that all will be saved, but that all can be saved. “For God sent not his son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved” (Jn. 3:17). The atonement of Christ does not automatically or unconditionally save anyone. Jesus died to reconcile man to God (Rom. 5:10; Col. 1:21), but even after the atonement we have the “ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:18), and after the atonement we are to tell men “be ye reconciled unto God” (2 Cor. 5:20). And remember, Jesus Christ shed his blood “for the remission of sins” (Matt. 26:28), but the Bible says that even after the atonement that sinners must still repent “for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38). Clearly, the atonement was one necessary condition in the process of reconciliation, but man’s conversion is also necessary for reconciliation between God and man.
The Bible teaches that for man to be saved, they need to obey the gospel (2 Thes. 1:8; 1 Pet. 4:17). The blood of Christ does not cover men if they continue in their sins (Heb. 10:26-31). Only those who are converted or who forsake their sins and trust in Christ have their sins covered His blood. Some are saved by the atonement and some are not saved by the atonement, not because the atonement was limited in its intention, but because some men choose repent and believe while others choose not to. Paul said, “God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe” (1 Tim. 4:10). “For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it” (Heb. 4:2). The atonement does not automatically or unconditionally save anyone; rather, it saves those who met the conditions of repentance and faith.
I have heard Calvinists say, “Jesus Christ did not come to make men salvable, but He came to actually save them.” They will quote, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15). They do not believe that the atonement is a provision through which all men might be saved, but a means through which the elect are automatically saved. The problem with their statement is that it is a false dilemma or an unnecessary antithesis. It is not “either/or” but “both/and” in this case.
The fallaciousness of such a statement would be repeated if a person said, “Public schools do not exist to make education available to the public, but to actually educate students.” The truth is that public schools exist to do both. They exist to make education available to all while making it actual for those who have enrolled. In fact, education could not become actual unless it was first made available.
In the same way, Christ came to make salvation available to all, but salvation only becomes actual for those who are converted. The atonement is sufficient for the salvation of all, but the atonement is only efficient for those who turn to Him. Salvation cannot become actual unless it is first made available. Therefore, Jesus Christ came to both make men salvable and to actually save men.
Those who believe that the atonement automatically and unconditionally saves men are those who believe that in the atonement Jesus Christ “took our penalty” or “took our punishment.” But the penalty of the law is “the soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Eze. 18:4, 20). That is retributive justice. The death that occurred in atonement was not of “the soul that sinneth…” Therefore, the atonement was not the penalty of the law or retributive justice. Retributive justice is treating everyone according to their own personal character. This did not occur in the atonement and therefore, the atonement did not satisfy retributive justice.
A Calvinist will argue that Jesus Christ suffered our penalty, or took our punishment, because the Bible says “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, cursed is every man that hangeth on a tree” (Gal. 3:13). But what is the curse of the law? Did the law of God ever demand for sinners to be crucified? No. In the civil government of Israel, the severest punishment of the law was stoning. Crucifixion was sanctioned by Roman law, but it was not sanctioned by Jewish law. God never crucified sinners. Under the moral government of God, the severe punishment of the law is eternal hell. That is why the text says that Jesus suffered “a curse,” not suffered “the curse of the law.” The curse of the law is what we are saved from; a curse is what he endured. The curse of the law was substituted with a curse.
Paul did not say that Jesus saved us from “the curse of the law” by suffering “the curse of the law,” but that he saved us from “the curse of the law” by suffering “a curse.” Jesus Christ saved us from the curse of eternal hell, by suffering the curse of hanging on the tree. His curse substitutes our curse, so that our curse can be avoided. By Jesus suffering the curse of crucifixion, of hanging on the tree, we now are saved from the curse of the law, which is eternal damnation.
Since our punishment is eternal hell (Matt. 25:46; 2 Thes. 1:9) it cannot be literally said that Jesus Christ took our punishment. In fact, it would be unjust for God to punish the innocent at all (Prov. 17:15). According to retributive justice, only those who deserve punishment can be justly punished, and only those who sin deserve punishment. Therefore, only those who sin can be justly punished. And since it would be unjust to punish the same sins twice, if Jesus was punished for our sins, justice would demand that the whole world be saved! Nobody that Jesus died for could possible go to hell for their sin.
This view of the atonement, that Christ suffered our penalty and took our punishment, has inevitably lead to the errors of universalism, limited atonement, unconditional salvation, and once saved always saved. These conclusions cannot be logically denied if the premise is accepted that Jesus Christ took our punishment or suffered the penalty for our sins.
The Bible says that “to punish the just is not good” (Prov. 17:26). It also says, “He that justifieth the wicked, and he that condemneth the just, even they both are an abomination to the Lord” (Prov. 17:15). But it also says, “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust” (1 Pet. 3:18). How do we reconcile these verses? One says that it is not good to punish the just, another says that it is an abomination to condemn the just, and the other says that Christ suffered the just for the unjust. If God punished or condemned Jesus, who was just, is He an “abomination” to Himself? Is He not good according to His own standard? We must conclude that according to retributive justice Jesus could not be punished or condemned at all because He was just. God could not and cannot but approve of Christ at all times. God could never disapprove of Christ or His character because His character never has any qualities to disapprove of. But since He was just, He was able to suffer and die as a sacrifice for our sins. The suffering and death of the just was a substitute for the punishment and condemnation of the guilty.
Dr. Lightfoot, one of theWestminsterdivines, even said, “Was Christ so much as punished by God? Much less, then, was He overwhelmed by the wrath of God – damned by God? Was a lamb punished that was sacrificed? He was afflicted, but not punished; for punishment argued a crime or fault preceding. Were the sad sufferings of Christ laid on him as punishments? Certainly not for His own sins; no, nor for ours neither. He suffered for our sins – bare our sins; but His sufferings were not punishments for our sins.”53
Dwight said, “Strict justice demands the punishment of the sinner only, and can in no sense require the punishment of another in his stead.”54
Jonathon Edwards Jr. said, “An innocent person may choose to be made the subject of suffering, in the stead of a criminal. Therefore, though suffering which he chooses to endure, be inflicted on him, no injustice is done him; nor will it be pretended that this procedure is according to strict distributive justice, which requires the criminal to be punished, not his substitute.”55
Charles Finney said that “it would not only be unjust, but it is impossible with God to punish an innocent moral agent at all. Punishment implies guilt. An innocent being may suffer, but he cannot be punished. Christ voluntarily suffered ‘the just for the unjust.’ He had a right to exercise this self-denial; and as it was by his own voluntary consent, no injustice was done to any one.”56
Retributive justice demands that punishment only be inflicted upon the sinful, or upon those who deserve it. Nobody can be justly punished for an action unless they are guilty of that action. That is why those who hold to the view that Jesus Christ was punished also hold to the view that Jesus Christ, through imputation, became guilty and sinful. Just as they believe that babies are sinful through the imputation of Adam’s sin, and therefore babies deserve hell, so they believe Jesus became sinful through the imputation of our sin, and therefore Jesus deserved to be crucified.
Martin Luther said that “of all sinners” Jesus Christ became “the greatest.”57 R. C. Sproul said, “He became the virtual incarnation of evil…”58
Adam Clarke said that this is “a most blasphemous doctrine; viz. that our sins were imputed to Christ, and that he was a proper object of the indignation of Divine justice, because he was blackened with imputed sin; and some have proceeded so far in this blasphemous career as to say, that Christ may be considered as the greatest of sinners, because all the sins of mankind, or of the elect, as they say, were imputed to him, and reckoned as his own.”59 Albert Barnes said, “Jesus was not sinful, or a sinner, in any sense. He did not so take human guilt upon him, that the words sinful and sinner could with any propriety be applied to him. They are not applied to him any way in the Bible; but there the language is undeviating. It is that in all senses he was holy and undefiled. And yet language is often used on this subject which is horrible and only a little short of blasphemy, as if he was guilty, and as if he was even the greatest sinner in the universe. I have heard language used which sent a chill of horror to my heart; and language may be found in the writings of those who hold the doctrine of imputation in the strictest sense, which is only a little short of blasphemy.”60
To support their notion that Jesus Christ became sinful, they appeal to Paul who said, “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin” (2 Cor. 5:21). Does this verse actually teach that Jesus became sinful, or that Jesus became a sinner? There is an alternative interpretation or understanding, which is more consistent with the whole of Scripture. Adam Clarke said, “He made him who knew no sin, (who was innocent), a sin-offering for us.”61 It is not uncommon to the Scriptures to use the word “sin” to refer to a “sin offering,” as the word “sin” is translated “sin offering” in many places throughout Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Chronicles, Nehemiah, and Ezekiel, because the context of such passages is clearly referring to a sin offering and not an act of sin. Albert Barnes said, “To be sin -The words ‘to be’ are not in the original. Literally, it is, ‘he has made him sin, or a sin-offering.’”62 And he said, “If the declaration that he was made ‘sin’… does not mean that he was sin itself, or a sinner, or guilty, then it must mean that he was a sin-offering – an offering or a sacrifice for sin.”63 John Wesley said, “He made him a sin offering, who knew no sin.”64 So we can see that the idea that Jesus Christ became sinful on the cross is not at all supported by this particular verse.
Those who believe that Jesus Christ became sinful on the cross will also say that “the father turned his face away…”65 The problem is that this is a hymn, not a Scripture. The Scriptures nowhere state that the Father turned His face away from the Son, as if His Son was repulsive to His eyes. However, R. C. Sproul said, “The load He carried was repugnant to the Father. God is too holy to even look at iniquity. God the Father turned His back upon the Son.”66
Their support for this view is, “Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity” (Hab. 1:13). This must be poetic and cannot be taken literally, because it would be a denial of the omniscience of God. The Bible says, “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good” (Prov. 15:3). And it says, “Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and open unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do” (Heb. 4:13). It cannot be doubted, in light of these passages, that the eyes of the Father were beholding the Son when He was on the cross, even if somehow the Son had become sinful or had been transformed into a sinner.
Their “ultimate” proof-text for their view of Jesus being so sinful that the Father turned His back on him is when Jesus said, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Mk. 15:34) Does this mean that the Father turned His face away? No. The meaning of this verse is shown in the context of the Psalm Jesus was quoting. The rest of the Psalm said, “Why art thou so far from helping me?” (Ps. 22:1) This clarifies what it means to be “forsaken.” To be forsaken is not to be spiritually or relationally separated, but to be provisionally abandoned.
Jesus was forsaken in the sense that the Father did not deliver the Him from the cross but rather He delivered Him to the cross. He did this by giving His Son over into the hands of wicked men to be crucified (Matt. 17:22; 26:35; Mk. 14:41; Lk. 24:7; Acts 2:23). Previously, the Father protected the Son when His life was being threatened (Matt. 4:6; Lk. 4:11; Jn. 7:30; 10:31; 10:39). But now, the Father lifted up the protection He previously had over Him. Pilate had no power over Jesus except what the Father gave to Him (Jn. 19:11). Therefore, Jesus was “forsaken” by the Father because the Father did not “help” Him, but rather the Father gave Jesus over to be crucified by men.
In contradiction to his own doctrine, that the Father turned His back on the Son, R. C. Sproul said that the Father was the one who “did strike Him, smite Him, and afflict Him.”67 How the Father could do all this, without even looking upon Christ or with His back turned on Him, Sproul does not explain. But the Bible says that it was wicked men who actually crucified Jesus (Mk. 12:7; 27:35; Mk. 15:24-25; Lk. 20:14-15; 23:33; 24:20; 24:7; Jn. 19:18, 23; Acts 2:23; 2:36; 4:10; 1 Thes. 2:14-15). The Apostles’ Creed says that Jesus “suffered under Pontius Pilate.”68 That is because it was Pilate who “delivered” Jesus to be “crucified” (Matt. 27:26; Mk. 15:15; Lk. 24:7; Jn. 19:16).
In this same way the Father can be said to be the one who bruised the Son (Isa. 53:10), or sacrificed the Son (Gen. 22:2), in the sense that the Father gave the Son over as an offering (Jn. 3:16), lifting up the protection that He once had over the Son, and delivering Him as a sacrifice for the sins of the people. As the hymn says, “God, His Son not sparing, sent Him to die…”69 God spared not His Son but delivered Him for all mankind (Acts 4:25; Rom. 8:32).
During the war inIraq, critics of the war were saying, “The President is killing our troops.” They didn’t mean that the President was directly killing American soldiers, but that he was sending them off to war; and consequently, they were dying. Likewise, the Father bruised the Son only in the sense that He made “His soul an offering for sin” (Isa. 53:10), but not in the sense that the Father directly bruised and crucified Him, or that the Son was under the wrath of the Father. Jesus must have been pleasing to the Father at all times, especially on the cross, because Jesus was perfectly obeying the Father and doing precisely what He wanted Him to do.
Contrary to the doctrine that Jesus Christ became a sinner or sinful, the Bible says that Jesus was offered to God without blemish or spot (Lev. 22:20; Ex. 12:5; Lk. 23:41; Heb. 9:14; 13:8; 1 Pet. 1:19; 2:22-23; 3:18). The Bible also says, “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever” (Heb. 13:8). Jesus has never been anything other than holy. If a sacrifice had any spots or blemishes, it could not be acceptable to God. The only reason that the atonement of Christ is acceptable to God, as a substitute for the punishment of the guilty, is because Jesus Christ was perfect and innocent. Jesus was a sinless sacrifice, not a punished sinner.
What is the difference between punishment and sacrifice? Punishment signifies the personal sin and guilt of the individual being punished. A sacrifice signifies the personal sin and guilt of another individual, whom the sacrifice is made for. That is why the Bible never says Jesus was “punished” for our sins, but that Jesus Christ was “sacrificed” for our sins and that He “suffered” for our sins. A sacrifice is offered to God as an alternative or replacement to our punishment. His sacrifice is in the place of our punishment, fulfilling its purpose, so that our punishment can be set aside by God’s grace and mercy, or withheld in forgiveness.
Our salvation is not a matter of justice, which we can demand of God, but a matter of grace, which we can request from God. A sacrifice for sin, or atonement, makes it possible for God to set aside our punishment but it does not obligate Him to do so, so our salvation is a matter of grace not justice. If God sets aside our punishment, He is being gracious by treating us more favorably than what is demanded. But if our sins were already punished in Christ, justice would demand that God does not punish us for those sins which Christ was already punished for, since justice does not allow for the same sins to be punished twice. It would be unjust to punish us for the sins that Christ was punished for, since justice was satisfied the first time. We would therefore be released from liability to punishment on the grounds of strict justice. But when a sacrifice for sin is made, which substitutes the punishment of sin, God can exercise grace and mercy in withholding the punishment for sin when we repent, but justice would still allow for God to punish those who do not repent.
If Jesus Christ was “punished” for our sins, instead of making a “sacrifice” for our sins which substitutes our punishment, then we cannot say that our sins are forgiven. When sins are forgiven, they are not punished. When sins are punished, they are not forgiven. Sins cannot be punished and forgiven at the same time, since punishment and forgiveness are opposites. But if Jesus provided an atoning sacrifice which substitutes the punishment of our sins, then the punishment for our sins can be withheld or set aside and there is real or genuine forgiveness of sins in our salvation. God can allow our sins to go unpunished, without misrepresenting His character or encouraging the transgression of His law, because an atoning sacrifice for our sins has been provided.
It must also be understood that the atonement was not the payment of our debt as some have supposed, but that it was that which was necessary for God to graciously and mercifully pardon our debt. The Bible explicitly says that God forgives us our debts (Matt 6:12; 18:27; Lk. 7:42). The debt that we owed was an eternity in the lake of fire. The atonement is a substitute for our penalty, not the penalty itself.
If the atonement was just a commercial transaction where our debt was paid, we wouldn’t need to repent and believe to be saved since even if we are impenitent and unbelieving, our debt is still paid. Our debt would be paid even before we repent and believe; and therefore, we would be saved before we repent and believe. But the Scriptures never represent the impenitent and the unbelieving as being saved, even though Jesus Christ has died for them.
This logical conclusion that we are saved by Christ no matter what we do cannot be avoided if we assume that Christ actually paid our debt. Caleb Burge said, “If the debt of sinners has been paid, it cannot be again demanded whether they have faith or not.”70 If our debt was paid, we wouldn’t have to worry about going to hell if we continue in our sins and die in our sins or if we believe the gospel or reject the gospel, since our debt is paid no matter what we do. We would all have been born saved and would have been safe and secure even while unconverted.
Also, if “Jesus paid our debt” there would be no real grace, mercy, or forgiveness in our salvation. This is because grace, mercy, or forgiveness is when our debt is pardoned or when our penalty is remitted. The Bible specifically and explicitly contrasts forgiving a debt with the payment of a debt (Matt. 18:23-34). A debt that is paid is not forgiven. And a debt that is forgiven is not paid.
It is strange that the “doctrines of grace” known as Calvinism or Reformed Theology actually excludes all grace in our salvation through their atonement view by saying that Jesus paid our debt! If Jesus paid our debt, we could never pray as Jesus taught us to, “forgive us our debts” (Matt. 6:12). That is why the “debt” analogy is used in Scripture to illustrate the nature of forgiveness, but it is never used in Scripture to illustrate the nature of atonement. The debt analogy shows precisely what forgiveness actually is, but when applied to the atonement, it excludes forgiveness all together.
Albert Barnes said, “When a debt is paid, there is no forgiveness; when a penalty is endured, there is no mercy.”71 If our debt is paid, it is a matter of justice for God to cancel our obligation to pay it, not a matter of grace. John Wesley said, “…when the debt is paid, or the purchase made, it is the part of equity to cancel the bond, and consign over the purchased possession.”72 Jonathon Edwards Jr. said, “But the fact is, that Christ has not, in the literal and proper sense, paid the debt for us… Payment of debt equally precludes grace, when made by a third person, as when made by the debtor himself…”73
This is precisely why we should not view God as an unforgiving creditor or make the atonement a mere commercial transaction. We must view God as the Moral Governor of the universe, who wanted to pardon sinners by setting aside their penalty while also honoring and upholding His law before His universe of free moral beings.
The atonement of Christ was not the same as the sacrifices pagans and heathen offered to satisfy their vindictive and unforgiving gods. God must be viewed, not as a mere offended individual who cannot forgive, but as the King of kings and Lord of lords, whose authority has been challenged and whose law has been disobeyed, and as one who will only forgive when it is safe to the public for Him to do so. We must view God as desiring the highest well-being of His universe, and therefore, as one who must maintain the authority and influence of His law either through the execution of the penalty upon the guilty or through a substitution or sacrifice of the innocent on behalf of the guilty. God was not vindictive or merciless, but rather, He wanted to pardon sinners by setting aside their penalty while still satisfying the demands of public justice by maintaining His law. God was not motivated by revenge as an individual but was acting responsibly as the Ruler of the universe.
Just as God does not take any sadistic pleasure or vindictive satisfaction in punishment (Eze. 18:32; 33:1; Lam. 3:32-33; Heb. 12:10), neither is the Godhead gratified or satisfied in any personal vindictive or sadistic sense when it comes to the atonement (Ps. 51:16-17; Heb 10:6; 10:8). The way that wicked men treated His Son did not itself please God (Mk. 12:6-9; Lk. 20:13-16; 1 Thes. 2:15). The satisfaction (Isa. 53:11) and the pleasure (Isa. 53:10) which God the Father has in the atonement is not sadistic or personal vindictiveness, but rather this satisfaction and pleasure is because God delights in public justice, rejoicing that His laws are being enforced and upheld through the public demonstration of Christ’s bloody sacrifice,since His laws are designed for the well-being of all. And He was rejoicing and delighting that mercy and pardon can now be granted to repentant rebels who have violated His moral law. He knows that through the suffering and death of Christ, the penalty of the law can be withheld from sinners. This is the reason for the satisfaction and pleasure God the Father had in the suffering of the Son.
The Bible says, “Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall proper in his hand. He shall see the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities” (Isa. 53:10-11). Just as punishment is a means to an end and not the end itself; and therefore, God rejoices in justice, not for the pain as an end but as a means, or not for its own sake but because of what it brings; so also the blood atonement is a means to an end and not the end itself. Therefore, the pleasure God gets from the bloodshed is not in the bloodshed as an end, or in the suffering for its own sake, but as a means to an end, delighting in it because of what it brings. God was pleased to sacrifice His son because through His death God said, “shall my righteous servant justify many.”
It is very important that we do not view the atonement as analogous to men throwing a child to a pack of wolves to satisfy their blood thirsty hunger and thus save their own lives. We must view God as the Moral Governor of the universe who required an atonement, not to satisfy an unmerciful or vindictive spirit within Himself, but so that He can honor and uphold His law throughout His Kingdom amongst all His moral subjects even though He remits the execution of the penalty to the sinner.
God has wrath against the guilty and against the guilty only. God has no wrath for the innocent. Jesus Christ was innocent; and therefore, His death could not satisfy the wrath that God has for the guilty.
However, J. I. Packer said, “The wrath of God against us, both present and to come, has been quenched… Jesus Christ abolished God’s anger against us… by His sacrificial death for our sins Christ pacified the wrath of God.”74 John Piper said, “The wrath of God was satisfied with the suffering and death of Jesus. The holy curse against sin was fully absorbed.”75
Contrary to what Reformed theologians try to say, the atonement did not quench, pacify, or satisfy the wrath of God. This is obvious since God still has wrath after the atonement (Lk. 21:23; Jn. 3:36; Acts 12:23; Rom. 1:18; 2:5; Col 3:6; Rev. 6:17; 14:10; 16:19). God had wrath for the wicked before the atonement and He still has wrath for the wicked after the atonement. Therefore, the atonement did not do away with the wrath of God.
Calvinists say that Jesus drank and emptied the “cup” of God’s wrath. They teach that when Jesus said, “let this cup pass from me” (Mat. 26:39), that he was referring to the wrath of God. But this cannot be true because Jesus told his disciples that they would drink of the exact same cup that he would drink of (Matt. 20:22). And it cannot be true because the cup of God’s wrath is still full after the atonement (Rev. 14:10; 16:19). The idea that, “The wrath of God was satisfied”76 is a modern hymn, not a Scripture.
Jesus died for the whole world but the world is still under God’s wrath. The world is under the wrath of God, despite the fact that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son” (Jn. 3:16). No man is saved from the wrath of God until they repent and believe. Those who are impenitent and unbelieving are under the wrath of God, despite the fact that Jesus shed His blood for them.
On the other hand, if God’s wrath was satisfied for us, we wouldn’t need to repent and believe in order to be saved from His wrath. We would have been saved even while we were impenitent and unbelieving. In fact, everybody would have been born saved! If Jesus quenched the anger of God or pacified His wrath, there would be no wrath to flee from (Matt. 3:7; Lk. 3:7).
But the Bible says that before we came to believe in Jesus Christ we were under the wrath of God. Jesus said, “He that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him” (Jn. 3:36). How strange it would be if this meant, “Whoever does not believe that Jesus satisfied the wrath of God, is under the wrath of God.” This would make no sense. How can failure to believe that Jesus satisfied God’s wrath put you in danger of God’s wrath? For if you believe that Jesus satisfied God’s wrath, God’s wrath is no longer something to worry about. But the reason that we were under the wrath of God before we believed in Jesus was because Jesus did not satisfy the wrath of God, as the wrath of God still remains.
If God’s wrath was satisfied, there would also be no real forgiveness or mercy through the atonement. That is because forgiveness or mercy is when God turns away from His wrath. The Bible says, “I am merciful, saith the Lord, and I will not keep anger forever” (Jer. 3:12). “But he, being full of compassion, forgave their iniquity, and destroyed them not; yea, many a time turned he his anger away, and did not stir up all his wrath” (Ps. 78:38). “Thou hast forgiven the iniquity of thy people; thou hast covered all their sin. Selah. Thou hast taken away all thy wrath: thou hast turned thyself from the fierceness of thine anger” (Ps. 85:2-3). “Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not? (Jonah 3:9) “Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passes by the transgression of the remnant of his heritage? He retaineth not his anger for ever, because he delighteth in mercy” (Mic. 7:18). Nothing could be any clearer from these passages than that mercy and forgiveness is when God turns away from His wrath and anger. But if God’s wrath and anger has been satisfied in the atonement, there is no real forgiveness through the atonement and neither could there be any wrath and anger after the atonement.
When I preach to sinners in the open air, I tell them that they are currently under the wrath of God because of their sin, and at the same time, I tell them that Jesus Christ has died for their sin. Logically, I could not say that they are still under the wrath of God for their sin if the atonement was the satisfaction of God’s wrath for their sin. I could not tell them to flee from the wrath that is to come by repenting of their sins and coming to Jesus Christ, as there would be no wrath to flee from. This view of the atonement would make repentance, or obeying the gospel, completely unnecessary.
The truth is that atonement makes the forgiveness of sins available to everyone, but only those who are converted actually receive it. Forgiveness is not when God’s wrath is satisfied; forgiveness is when God turns away from His wrath (Ps. 78:38; 85:2-3; Jonah 3:9; Micah 7:18; Jer. 3:12). We ought to tell sinners that they are under the wrath of God, but if they turn from their sins and come to Jesus Christ, then they can be saved from the wrath of God. There is real forgiveness through the atonement for those who turn from their sins because God can turn away from His wrath due to what Jesus Christ has done. As Paul said, “God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” (Eph. 4:32).
Instead of singing, “The wrath of God was satisfied,” we should be singing, “The wrath of God can be set aside.” The Bible says, “Christ our passover is sacrificed for us” (1 Cor. 5:7). This means that now the wrath of God can pass over us instead of being poured out upon us (Ex. 12:13, 23). In this way Christ saves us from the wrath that is to come (1 Thes. 1:10).
The good news is that because of the atonement, everyone can be saved from the wrath of God. The atonement of Christ reveals to God’s universe His regard for His law just as executing the penalty upon sinners would have, so now God can remit our penalty or turn from His wrath because atonement has been made. God can turn from His wrath or remit the execution of our penalty because atonement has been made which honors His law just as it would have been honored if He poured His wrath out on sinners or executed the penalty of the law upon them. The atonement has fulfilled the purpose of God’s wrath, satisfying the reasons for the penalty of the law, so now God’s wrath or the penalty of the law can be withheld.
We are not saved from the wrath of God at Calvary, but we are saved from the wrath of God, because of Calvary, at conversion. Though our penalty can be withheld, God will only turn from His wrath when sinners turn from their sins. Those who stay in their sins are those who stay under God’s wrath despite the atonement that was made for them. Those whom Jesus died for are still under the wrath of God and are going to receive the penalty of hell, unless they repent of their sins and believe the gospel.
The Bible says that those whom Christ died for can still perish (1 Cor. 8:11; 2 Pet. 2:1). God is not obligated by justice to forgive those whom Jesus died for, so our salvation is by grace (Eph. 1:7). If God had to forgive those whom Jesus died for, they would be saved by justice not grace. But God is not obligated to save those whom Jesus died for.
The Bible says, “And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died?” (1 Cor. 8:11; see also Rom. 14:23) Regarding this verse, Adam Clarke said, “So we learn that a man may perish for whom Christ died.”77 John Wesley said, “We see, Christ died even for them that perish.”78
The Bible talks about “false prophets” who will deny “the Lord that brought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction” (2 Pet. 2:1). Regarding this verse, Adam Clark said, “That through their own wickedness some may perish for whom Christ died.”79 John Wesley said, “Therefore Christ bought even them that perish.”80
If we are truly saved by grace then God does not have to save those for whom Jesus died. In order to be saved by grace, retributive justice must demand your damnation. Retributive justice still demands the damnation of our race, even though Jesus has died for our entire race, so that when any individual is saved it is still by grace.
The reason that those for whom Christ died can still perish is because forgiveness through the atonement only comes to those who repent and believe. The atonement is not at all inconsistent or incompatible with repentance. Forgiveness was made available to all at Calvary, but forgiveness only becomes actual at conversion. No man is saved from God’s wrath until they repent and believe. The atonement is a substitute for the penalty of everyone, which makes the penalty of every remissible, but only those who are converted actually have their penalty remitted by God’s grace and mercy. We see then that the atonement is by no means contrary to the requirement of repentance but in fact is the only reason God can forgive those who do repent.
Why Isn’t Everybody Saved?
Why are some damned for their sin but some are saved by the atonement? It is not become the atonement was limited or only made for a few. It is because some freely choose to repent and some freely choose not to. Though Christ has died for all, sinners still need to be reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5:18-20). What remains left to be done in the process of reconciliation, now that the atonement has been made, is man’s repentance and faith. The atonement was one condition in the process of reconciliation. The atonement was one condition of God’s mercy and forgiveness. Man’s choice to repent and believe is also conditions. If reconciliation between God and man does not take place, it is not because God has not done His part, but because man has not done his.
A. W. Tozer said, “Universal atonement makes salvation universally available, but it does not make it universally effective toward the individual.”81 He also said, “If atonement was made for all men, why are not all saved? The answer is that before redemption becomes effective toward the individual man there is an act which that man must do. That act is not one of merit, but of condition.”82
The Bible teaches that God wants all to repent and be saved (Eze. 33:11; Acts 17:30; 2 Pet. 3:9), but those who refuse to repent must be damned. They are damned not by any fault of God’s but by their own fault. They are damned because they freely chose to sin and not to repent. Sinners who refuse to repent and be reconciled to God must be sent to hell. Hell is a real governmental necessity. No community is safe if there is no prison for law breakers. God’s law is for the good of everyone but no law would be maintained if there is no punishment. And no punishment would be punishment unless it is painful. Painless punishment is no punishment at all. Therefore, those who refuse to repent of their sins and be reconciled to God through Christ must be sent to hell, the prison of the universe (1 Pet. 3:19). There, they will be tormented in eternal pain (Matt. 22:13; Rev. 14:10-11). The good of the universe demands this. God has no other alternative for those who do not choose to repent of their sins and believe the gospel.
So why are some saved and others not? It is because some freely choose to repent and receive God’s offer and others freely don’t. Salvation is described as a gift that God offers to all to accept and receive (Jn. 1:11-12; Lk. 14:16-24; Rom 5:18). An offer or invitation is nonsense unless the one whom it is being offered to is capable of receiving it, and if that which is being offered is meant for him. To offer a man something which he does not have the ability to receive, or which was never meant for him, is to simply mock him. God would be insincere in inviting all to be saved and believe the gospel if He knows that they are unable to do so and if the atonement was not even made for them. The fact that God invites men to accept His offer of salvation is proof that men have the ability to accept the invitation and that Christ has made a way for them to be saved.
Paul said, “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” (2 Cor. 5:20). God has given us an invitation to be reconciled through Christ, but we must choose or decide to accept that invitation in order for reconciliation to occur. If men who hear the gospel do not accept God’s offer of salvation, it is not because they couldn’t but because they wouldn’t (Matt. 11:20-21; 22:3; 23:37, Mk. 6:6; 7:30; 13:34; 14:17-18; 19:14; 19:27; Lk. 14:16-24; Jn. 5:40; Acts 7:51; 17:27; Rev. 2:21).
God “sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding: and they would not come” (Matt. 22:3). Though God offers salvation to all men, many men choose to reject God’s gracious offer (Isa. 65:2; Lk. 7:30; 14:16-24; Jn. 1:10-11; Rom. 10:21; 2 Thes. 1:8; 1 Pet. 4:17). To their own damnation many men choose to resist His grace (Gen. 6:3; Matt. 23:37; Lk. 7:30, 13:34; Acts 7:51). “But the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of him” (Lk. 7:30).
Arnobius said, “The fountain of life is open to all, nor is any one deprived of the right of drinking: but if thy pride be so great that thou refuseth the offered gift and benefits, why dost thou blame him who invites thee?”83
33. Catherine Booth (Popular Christianity, Published by Convention Bookstore, p. 30)
34. Hermas (Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. II, The Pastor of Hermas, Book Second)
35. A. W. Tozer (Paths To Power, Christian Publications,Camp Hill,Pennsylvania)
36. A. W. Tozer (1969 “Gems from Tozer, 1969 Edition, p. 12)
37. Joseph Alleine (Alarm to Unconverted Sinners, p 46-47)
38. Ray Comfort (God Doesn’t Believe in Atheists, Published by Bridge-Logos, p. 120)
39. John Owen (Justification by Grace, Published by Sovereign Grace Publishers, p. 245).
40. Thomas W. Jenkyn (The Extent of the Atonement, p. 144)
41. Gregory of Nazianzus (yr 330-390) (The Truth Shall Make You Free by Gordon C. Olson, Published by Bible Research Corp, p. 99)
42. Charles Finney (The Oberlin Evangelist; July 30, 1856; On the Atonement, p. 2)
43. Thayer’s Definitions
44. Thayer’s Definitions
45. Thayer’s Definitions
46. John Wesley (Commentary on Romans 3:25)
47. Albert Barnes (Commentary on Romans 3:26)
48. Thayer’s Definitions
49. Thayer’s Definitions
50. Jonathon Edwards Jr. (The Necessity of the Atonement, p. 5-6)
51. Albert Barnes (Commentary on Galatians 3:13)
52. Albert Barnes (The Atonement, Published by Bethany Fellowship, p. 244-145.)
53. Dr. Lightfoot (Lightfoot’s Works, London Edition, Volume Six, pp. 23, 24)
54. Dwight (Dwight’s Theology, 1830, Volume Two, pp. 219, 306)
55. Jonathon Edwards Jr. (The Works of President Edwards the Younger, Volume One, p. 74)
56. Charles Finney (Lectures on Systematic Theology, Published by BRCCD, p. 299)
57. Martin Luther (On the Galatians, Gal. 3:13)
58. R.C. Sproul, Tabletalk magazine, “My God, My God, Why Hast Thou Forsaken Me?” (April 1990), p. 6.
59. Adam Clarke (Commentary on 2 Cor. 5:21)
60. Albert Barnes (Commentary on Galatians 3:13)
61. Adam Clarke (Commentary on 2 Cor. 5:21).
62. Albert Barnes (Commentary on 2 Cor. 5:21)
63. Albert Barnes (Commentary on 2 Cor. 5:21)
64. John Wesley (Commentary on 2 Cor. 5:21)
65. How Deep The Father’s Love For us, written by Stuart Townend
66. R.C. Sproul, Tabletalk magazine, “My God, My God, Why Hast Thou Forsaken Me?” (April 1990), p. 6.
67. R. C. Sproul (The Truth of the Cross).
68. (The Apostle’s Creed by William Barclay, Published by Westminster John Know Press, p.14)
60. How Great Thou Art by Carl Boberg, written in 1886
70. Caleb Burge (The Scriptural Doctrine of Atonement, Published by Truth in Heart, p. 84)
71. Albert Barnes (The Atonement, Published by Bethany Fellowship, p. 231)
72. John Wesley (Notes on the New Testament)
73. Jonathon Edwards Jr. (Grace Consistent with Atonement, p. 3-4, 6)
74. J. I. Packer (Knowing God, Published by InterVarsity Press, p. 165)
75. John Piper (Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die, Published by Good News Publishers, p. 26-27)
76. In Christ Alone, written by Keith Getty & Stuart Townend
77. Adam Clarke (Commentary on 1 Cor. 8:11, )
78. John Wesley (Commentary on 1 Cor. 8:11, )
79. Adam Clarke (Commentary on 2 Pet. 2:1, )
80. John Wesley (Commentary on 2 Pet. 2:1, )
81. A. W. Tozer (Paths To Power, Christian Publications,Camp Hill,Pennsylvania)
82. A. W. Tozer (Paths To Power, Christian Publications,Camp Hill,Pennsylvania)
83. Arnobius (An Equal Check to Pharisaism and Antinomianism by John Fletcher, Volume Two, pg 205, Published by Carlton & Porter)
An excerpt from, “The Natural Ability of Man: A Study on Free Will & Human Nature.” To Order: Click Here
For additional writings on the Governmental Atonement view, see the following books that we offer:
The Vicarious Atonement of Christ by Jesse Morrell is a systematic presentation of the governmental atonement view. This book presents the scriptural arguments for, “What is moral government?” “What is the purpose of moral law?” “What is the purpose of penalty?” “What is not the purpose of penalty?” “What is the nature of forgiveness?” “What are the problems in the way of forgiveness?” “What are not the problems in the way of forgiveness?” “What is the atonement?” “What was not the atonement?” “What is imputed righteousness?” And this book contains, “Answers to Objections.” This book is full of logical and scriptural arguments as well as quotes from great Christian leaders throughout history.
This is the complete 1851 edition of Lectures on Systematic Theology by Charles G. Finney. These Lectures are arguably the greatest systematic theology in Chrisitan history. This is a “Note Takers Edition” as the bottom of each page has a large area for the reader to write their own personal notes as they study this wonderful piece of Christian theology.
731 pages (8.5″ x 11″)
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A Defense of New England Theology by Albert Barnes is a very rare book, originally published in 1829. It contains Barnes sermon, “The Way of Salvation” for which he was accused of heresy by Rev. Dr. George Junkin. The doctrines in question were human ability, imputation, and atonement. Barne’s response and defense to the charge of heresy is also contained in this volume, for which Barnes was acquitted by the Synod of Philadelphia. “New England Theology” was a theological movement with notable men like Moses Stuart, Albert Barnes, Charles Finney, Asa Mahan, and others. The modern movement of “Moral Government Theology” has its roots in what was “New England Theology.”
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The Scriptural Doctrine of Atonement by Caleb Burge has been said to be the best book on the Governmental Atonement theory. Burge expounds upon very profound concepts and presents them in a very intelligent and understandable way. This book was originally published in 1822. It contains pure theological gold on one of the most important doctrines of Christianity. It will be an absolute treasure in your library.
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The Atonement by Albert Barnesis a classic book on the governmental theory of the atonement from a very prominent pastor and world renown Bible commentator from the 1800’s. Barnes’ work on The Atonement was Leonard Ravenhill’s number one recommended book out of forty listed. It is very insightful, thought provoking, and spiritually rich.
Albert Barnes (1789-1870) was a pastor, author, and Bible commentator. He pastored the large and influential First Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. He is best known for his extensive notes on the Bible. Millions of copies of his notes have been printed and distributed worldwide and have blessed many. His work on the atonement was one of his greatest contributions to Christian Theology.
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The Atonement in Christ by John Miley is one of the most exhaustive and important writings on the various atonement theories that have existed throughout Christian history. This classic writing advances the Governmental Theory of the atonement as true and scriptural and critiques the opposing perspectives like that of the Penal Substitution Theory of atonement.
John Miley (1813-1895) was an American Christian theologian in the Methodist tradition who was one of the major Methodist theological voices of the 19th century.
Miley had graduated from Augusta College and, as a Methodist pastor, had held nineteen different pastoral appointments. He served as chair of systematic theology at Drew University in Madison, NJ beginning in 1873, after his brother-in-law, Randolph Sinks Foster, left the seat to become a Bishop.
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The Extent of the Atonement: In Its Relation to God and the Universe by Rev. Thomas W. Jenkyn is a classic work expounding upon the Governmental View of the atonement. It is a thorough explanation of the atonement in reference to its nature, the character of God, the purposes of God, the works of God, the moral government of God, the providence of God, divine truth, the rebellion of man, the salvation of mankind, the work of the Holy Spirit, the Christian church, etc. This book presents the truth of the Scriptures in clarity and is an absolute joy to read.
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The Governmental View of the Atonement is a compilation book with writings from some of the best theologians on this topic. The authors include Charles Finney, Henry Cowles, John Morgan, Moses Stuart, and Jonathon Edwards Jr. These authors present the truth of the atonement of Christ in a very clear Scriptural and reasonable light. Their writings show the necessity, nature, and extent of Christ’s atoning sacrifice. The benevolence and brilliance of God in providing a way to sustain His moral government while pardoning transgressors will be clearly seen as you read this wonderful piece of literature.
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The Atonement as it Relates to God and Man by Nathan Beman is a wonderful exposition on the Governmental View of the atonement of Christ. With precision and excellence the author explains why it was necessary for God’s moral government that the atonement of Christ be made if God is going to pardon sinners, the nature of Christ’s atoning death, and the extent of who this loving sacrifice has been made for. The reader of this book will be left with a crystal clear understanding of the doctrine of atonement.
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