Chapter 5 - Christ and the Atonement

The Incarnation

The word “incarnation,” derived from Latin, signifies “in the flesh.” To become incarnate, then, signifies to become a man. So long as Christ remained in the sphere of absolute Godhead, he could not be subject to the jurisdiction of his own objective law; neither could he in any sense directly affect man in the way of redemption, there being no point of contact with man. He could not cease to be God and thus become a mere creature under the law’s jurisdiction, but it was possible for him to come out of the sphere of absolute Godhead into the sphere of real manhood by assuming human form and human nature in connection with his deity. “Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same.… For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham” (Heb. 2:14, 16).
To reject the doctrine of the incarnation is, in effect, to reject the whole Bible; for not only does the New Testament revolve around the Person of Christ as God incarnate, but the Old Testament stands committed to the same truth, because it contains direct prophecies of the incarnation. (See Isa. 9:6-7; 7:14; Micah 5:2.) If these texts do not teach the earthly birth of a divine being, it would be difficult to state such a fact. Some professing Christians have been rather inclined to doubt the story of the virgin birth, but it seems to me that if the divine was to become human, nothing could be more natural than that his introduction to this world of sin should occur in some extraordinary manner.
The special evidences of Christ’s deity are so numerous that I can refer to only a few of them.
1. The prophecies of the incarnation. These were all fulfilled in Christ. He was born of a virgin (Isa. 7:14) in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). The Old Testament abounds in prophecies concerning the birth, ministry, mission, death, and resurrection of the Messiah—more than three hundred in all—and all were completely fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth. To these prophecies more than to all else the first preachers appealed in establishing the Messiahship of Jesus (e.g., Acts 18:28).
2. The types of the Old Testament. These were fulfilled in Christ. The blood of the sacrificial victims, which from the days of Abel had flowed freely in atonement for the sins of men, pointed forward unmistakably to a great Sacrifice, even the sacrifice of our Lord.
3. The divine names. Christ bore the divine names “Jehovah,” “God,” “Emmanuel,” “Lord of all,” “the mighty God,” “everlasting Father,” “the true God,” “King of kings, and Lord of lords.”
4. Divine attributes. For a discussion of the divine attributes ascribed to Christ see chapter 1, under sidehead “The Son.”
5. Divine works and miracles. Christ claimed “power on earth to forgive sins,” thus showing that he is God. He turned water into wine, multiplied loaves and fishes, walked on the raging waves of Galilee, and stilled its storms, thus proving that he is Lord of creation. He cast out evil spirits, healed the bodies of the sick and suffering, and even raised the dead, thus demonstrating his universal dominion.
6. Divine honors. Christ claimed equality with the Father (John 5:19) and a divine glory with the Father “before the world was” (17:5). He taught that “all men should honor the Son, even as they honor the Father” (5:23). These claims to divine honors were all recognized by the Apostles, who united in the worship of Jesus as the only one through whom salvation could be obtained (Acts 4:12). Paul declared that “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:10-11).
7. Unexampled human character. Christ’s life was one of freedom from sin. Not one blot or sin rests upon his character. In the face of his enemies he could say, “Which of you convinceth me of sin?” (John 8:46). If men do not believe in his virgin birth, let them account for his virgin life; for his life was one of absolute holiness and perfection. In this he differs from all other men, not only in degree, but also in kind; for all others possess the nature of evil and “have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” Jesus was the only sinless one who has ever trod this earth of ours. In this he appears more than human.
8. His death and resurrection. The trial and crucifixion of Jesus reveal a character more than human. Though mocked and abused, he betrayed no trace of anger or resentment. Nailed to a cross, and expiring in frightful agonies, he pronounced no words of hatred or revenge upon his malignant foes, but instead prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
The resurrection of Christ is the grand climax of all. This historical event has never been affected by the soldiers’ false reports at the time or by the vain reasonings of unbelievers since. The risen Lord appeared after his resurrection to hundreds of people. When Paul stood before King Agrippa and declared that Christ had suffered and risen from the dead, he said, “I am persuaded that none of these things are hidden from him; for this thing was not done in a corner” (Acts 26:26). Had the Apostles desired to establish a falsehood concerning the resurrection, they would have selected some place other than Jerusalem to begin their deception; for all the facts were easily obtainable there at that time. And it must be remembered also that the Apostles and other Christians gave their own lives in defense of the doctrine of a risen Christ.

The Atonement

“We also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement” (Rom. 5:11). Christianity is based upon the death of Christ as the one great atonement for the sins of men.
The Bible plainly teaches that more than a mere example of piety was required in order to effect our salvation. “For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life” (Rom. 5:10). If sinful men were to reform and then follow perfectly the outward example of Christ’s right doing, this course would in nowise dispose of the sins of their past life; for men cannot have surplus obedience as a result of their present righteousness and thus make reparation for their sins. But “Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures” (I Cor. 15:3). Those who repent and are converted have their sins “blotted out,” yea, they are washed from their sins in his own blood (Rev. 1:5).
According to the foregoing considerations, we see that the necessity of incarnation and atonement lay in the fact of sin. As a result of the atonement God can be “just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus” (Rom. 3:26). This shows that God could not be just (maintain his just and holy law) and pardon men without a ransom price. Man could not ransom himself—the price was too great; angels could not; but, thank God, he “so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
Christ as God could satisfy the claims of infinite justice; therefore the way of redemption was made possible. Being an infinite sacrifice, he could pay the debt to infinite justice for all men. It is the character of the sacrifice itself that makes the atonement of such infinite worth. In the exact use of the term, God does not “pardon” sin at all, for infinite justice has exacted the penalty for all committed sins. The forgiveness of sins which God grants is “for Christ’s sake” (Eph. 4:32), “who … bare our sins in his own body on the tree” (I Pet. 2:24).
While one purpose of the atonement is to change the relation of God with men, it is also designed to change the attitude of men toward God. When the transgressor is made to realize the awful nature and extent of his sin, and to see that he is deserving of infinite punishment, his heart sinks in despair. If his attention is then turned to Calvary, to the dying agonies of the God-man, as the one who “gave himself for us,” hope revives, love for the Redeemer springs up in the sin-benighted soul, and faith lays hold on the Savior of men, with the glorious result that the blood washes away the guilt of all past transgressions. Hallelujah! Then he is ready to exclaim as did the Apostle John, “We love him, because he first loved us” (I John 4:19). This is the secret of regeneration.

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