Bible Exposition Fellowship

The Bible Exposition Fellowship was founded in 1965 by John Wesley Walker of Strood, Kent, in association with Charles D. Alexander of Liverpool. The Fellowship is committed entirely to the doctrines reasserted at the Reformation of the Sixteenth Century and the upholding of the historic creeds of the Christian Church, known as THE APOSTLES', THE NICENE, and THE ATHANASIAN. None of the articles contained herein may be reproduced without the prior consent of the Bible Exposition Fellowship.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Profundity of the Atonement.

Chas. D. Alexander

John Ch. 17 v 1, “These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to Heaven, and said, Father the hour is come. Glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee.
These profound words indicate the dividing of time and the dividing even eternity itself. The hour is come; what hour? The hour of His death. The hour of atonement. He had given to His disciples the symbols of the bread and the wine in remembrance of what He was about to do, the symbols of His death and passion, to be celebrated and observed until He should come again, as the most important thing, representing or pointing to the most important event of all events, the meaning of all history and the dividing point of the whole human race.
You will notice as that it is the atonement, of which He speaks, and for which He is preparing Himself and His disciples by this last audible dedicatory prayer of Himself. You will observe that He speaks about the glory of God, which was about to be achieved. “Father the hour is come,” the hour to which the great life of God had been moving from all eternity, the hour in which the full revelation of God would be made. That would be done in that hour for which all creation waited, and without which being has no meaning at all. In the events of this hour, God would glorify His Son, and by glorifying His Son, the Son would be able to glorify the Father. In accordance with the eternal purpose of God, the Son would be glorified in death, and in the overcoming of death in the rising again from the dead, and the ascension to the eternal throne.
The throne from which He came, He returns to, but not in the same condition as when He left it, for He left it as God. He returns as God and man, raising in Himself our humanity to the eternal throne of God, and thus fulfilling, as Paul elsewhere tells us in the second chapter of Hebrews, the whole design of God in the creation of man, that is the creation of all things, that man should have dominion over the works of the divine hand. It was to thwart this that Satan, in his hated of God and man, intervened in the Garden of Eden, and was so permitted to intervene.
There is a profound saying on the part of one of the great men of poetic history, that evil, strangely, mysteriously, is necessary to God, in the working out of the divine purpose and the expression of the divine life. Bold and tremendous words, which we can only utter with bated breath, but they are true We may not be able to comprehend the whole mystery of evil, anymore than we can comprehend the wisdom of God, or the being of God, but one day we shall, and it shall be the theme of heaven and the point that we shall be exploring throughout all eternity. If there is any occupation in heaven we know it must be this that eternally we shall be probing the depths of Christ and His unsearchable riches, the meaning of the life of God.
We have the formula of all things, the formula of creation, and the formula of the atonement in these opening words of the Saviour in His prayer, “Father the hour has come. Glorify thy Son, that thy Son also might glorify thee.” When we have understood that, there is nothing more remaining to be understood, in time or in eternity regarding the being and nature and purpose of God, the movement of His great life, the design and end which He has in view. The reason why we are here, is all summarised in these few words, “The hour is come, glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee,” for it is in the glorification of the Son, that is victory over death and the grave, that is over the totality of evil, that God himself is manifest, and made known at last to all creation. That there is a veil over this mystery, we see only the glimmerings of the ultimate truth, it must surely be self- evident.
We have long esteemed the great darkness which fell over the earth at the sixth hour of the atonement. Christ was crucified at the third hour. At the sixth hour which was midday according to the time then calculated, darkness came over all the earth until the ninth hour. Three hours of darkness. At the ninth hour, there was that succession of four cries to heaven, four cries which in themselves summarise the whole meaning of the atonement, two of which at least can be found in Psalm twenty two. That this darkness was a prophetic darkness, an actual darkness, sent by God for a prophetic purpose there could be no shadow of doubt. I don’t think anyone has expressed it as well as Mr.Spurgeon. This is him at his highest and best. In his entire wonderful ministry he never said anything so profound and so powerful, so weighty, so far reaching as this. He says “This darkness tells us all that the passion is a great mystery. I have tried to explain it as a substitution, and I feel that where the language is explicit I may and must be explicit too. But yet I feel that the idea of substitution does not cover the whole of the dread mystery, and that no human conception can grasp the whole. Tell me the death of the Lord Jesus was a grand example of self sacrifice, I can see that, and much more. Tell me it was a wondrous obedience to the will of God, I can see that, and much more. Tell me it was the bearing, of what ought to have been borne by myriads of sinners of the human race, and the chastisement of their sin, I can see that, and found my best hopes upon it. But do not tell me that this is all that there is in the cross. No, great as this would be, there is much more in the redeemer’s death. God veiled the cross in darkness, and in darkness much of the deep meaning lies, not because God would not reveal it, but because we have not the capacity to discern it all.” So far Mr Spurgeon in that great statement he made. His great mind was confronted with the dark mystery of the cross, where our Saviour died.
Too often the cross has been represented as a kind of a court scene, God is the judge and there is the sinner, someone steps in and intervenes, the mediator, to take the offence upon Himself, and God the Father is too often represented as an angry God, menacing the sinner with his eternal fate, and the Son stepping in to avert the anger of God. But this is entirely a false meaning of the atonement, because one of the greatest texts upon the matter says “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." So the cross is the greatest example of all, of the love of God. The surrender of his own Son to death, the great heart of God burdened and rent by the view, a view we can never behold ourselves, not in this world anyway, because we do not see, what God sees, the whole mystery of evil, the whole question mark which hangs over all creation, settled in one tremendous moment, in the only way that it could be settled. The only way of destroying evil is by evil, there is no other way, and there's no other one to assume evil but God Himself, and therefore you cannot understand the atonement, without understanding somewhat the mystery of the Holy Trinity. This is central to the whole understanding of the atonement, to know that God is One, yet three persons, not three Gods but One God, in three modes of being, as the early church theologians so correctly put it; God revealed in the person of the Father, in the person of the Son, in the person of the Holy Spirit Three persons not to be confused, one God not to be divided, and it is impossible to separate the persons in all their activity. You say what about the cross? It was the Son who hung dying there, but the Father loved the world He had made, and gave the Son. It was the Father's love you see there pinioned upon the tree, and “Christ through the eternal spirit offered Himself without spot to God.” The mystery of the Holy Spirit, in the one Spirit of the Godhead, there present to offer as in burning flame, the sacrifice of love and obedience to the Almighty Father. Nor could you have the atonement unless the persons of the Godhead were so related, it must be Father, Son and Holy Spirit and in that order. The Father eternal, The Son eternal, The Holy Ghost eternal, yet there are not three eternals but one eternal, as the Athanasian creed so profoundly tells us. It is only as we perceive this, that the Godhead moves always in unity, in its grand design, to the great and dramatic conclusion, in which God, will reveal Himself finally, in all His perfection, glory, beauty and eternity, to the whole assembled creation. Now this is the intention of God in creation, this is why he made the heaven and the earth, the heaven first, the heaven of angels, Those bright celestial spirits in all their vast innumerable circles of living light, and then, the lower world our three dimensional world,, with sky and the firmament, earth and sea, and all that therein is. It was not in heaven, but upon earth, this lowly passing frail earth in which we live, it was here, that God designed to work out the meaning and purpose of His own life
Let us remember this, when foolish men, scientists some of them, speculate about intelligent life being found somewhere else in the universe; they will never find it, they cannot find it even in the solar system. Only one planet, only one spot in the entire Universe could contain man, because here the most important events of all time and eternity happened, and it could not happen twice. It may not happen anywhere else and if evil is here, it is throughout all creation, and therefore God would have to die a thousand times upon some other cross, in some other world in order to bring all to His feet. The cross determines all scientific questions, my friend, make no mistake about that, it is the answer to all questions and all mystery, the happenings on this earth could happen nowhere else. This was the stage; lowly as it may seem to scientists, in comparison to the vastness of the universe. Why is the universe so vast? Not that it might contain other forms of life, but that you and I, through true science might have a yardstick, by which we can measure the eternity and the Almightiness of God, and see how great a God He was, and is, how unsearchable is His wisdom. “The Heavens declare the glory of God, the firmament showeth His handiwork, day unto day uttereth speech, night unto night showeth knowledge.” This is the purpose of creation, so far as it shows forth the wisdom, and the providence, the Almightiness of our great God and Saviour, the cross answers this question, it puts everything in right proportions. The intention of God in creation therefore, was to reveal and to prove Himself. What do we mean by to prove Himself? He didn't need to prove Himself to Himself, but to creation, he had to show forth, that He was worthy to be creator, He was worthy to bear rule over all things. That is the whole point of sin; the meaning of sin lies just there, that was the original sin. Satan refused this acknowledgement of God's absolute right to create, and to create what He did, and as He did, is beyond question. The original sin in heaven, was the mystery that was revealed to the angels, at what point of their existence we cannot tell, that God's purposes were not to be fulfilled in them, except in a secondary sense, that they were to be the servants of another creation, of a feeble, frail creature called man, whose destiny was to be higher than the angels, who should be subject to time, and all that that means, as angels are not subject to it, and even to death itself. But through this means, man would be exalted to the eternal throne, to reign over all the works of God, and Satan in the midst of the stones of Holy fire, pondered upon this, and in his heart rebelled against it. That he should be a servant of such a creature as this, and deprived of the ultimate crown, which he thought was his due, and with the thought, the light went out in his spirit and he became darkness. As Milton so eloquently puts it, Satan discovers Hell. But what is that Hell he discovered? I am Hell he says, I am Hell. I am Hell. Some of the early divines used to say, that the bottomless pit is the soul of impenitent man, there is far more truth in that perhaps, than in the ideas which have survived from the middle ages, and the Spanish inquisition, of the kind of Hell which might be suitable for a body indeed, but certainly would not be suitable for a mind.
Now how would God deal with such a situation as this? The fall of angels was without remedy, because they sinned against total light; there is no redemption for fallen angels, there cannot be. There is for fallen man, because he is a limited creature, they weren't. Man depends upon those who have gone before him, father, son, and grandson and so on, it goes on and on. A short life compassed about with trials, and questions, difficulties and problems and enigmas; man only sees the little world that is around him, he has light for very little more. He is a limited creature and therefore the possibility of redemption arises in man. When the Lord Jesus was revealed, when as the Son came forth from the bosom of the Father, bearing the Father’s credentials, to bring all creation back to Himself, then we read,”verily He took not on him the seed of angels, but He took on Him the seed of Abraham, to be made in all points like unto His brethren.”
Oh the glory and the wonder of the incarnation. The babe of Bethlehem. Where was the Godhead, when it lay an unconscious embryo in the womb of the virgin, or hung upon that maiden’s breast, where was the Godhead then? Oh the mystery, as the hymn writer said, “Our God contracted to a span, incomprehensibly, made man.” He, who was the Godhead, in whom the whole Godhead resided, the second person thereof, became the nursemaid of the human race, the second man. There have only been two men, the first was Adam, the second is the Lord from heaven in whom mankind is renewed, and creation is made again without evil, without the possibility of evil because now God is in it. Whereas before he presided over it, now He enters into His own creation, as a helpless babe at Bethlehem, and gives Himself to the death of the cross. At the appointed hour, at the appointed moment, He renders up His life. And we approach the meaning of the atonement and the profundity of it. When we go back to the original sin and see what it is that sin does, sin denies the purpose of creation, it denies the wisdom of God, it denies the right of God to act, according to His own wisdom, which is always according to perfect love, and perfect love is the only dimension upon which creation can exist. So Satan whatever his original name was, moved through the holy stones of fire, and covered as a cherub the very throne of God, denied his own being and was a traitor to his own nature, and to perfect love, when he heard the news and knew the wisdom, that a lesser creature would be made who would be exalted at last above the angels to the very throne of God, and would be one, with God in his eternal reign. He did not know, of course, for it was hidden from him, that it would only be realised through the Son. It would have been no test to Satan and to the fallen angels, if they had known beforehand all the details, for they have to be saved eternally by faith, and eternal and perfect love, just as we are saved by faith, strange that, isn't it? Faith in heaven? Yes there's a place for it, even in Heaven, the kind of faith, which relies upon the wisdom of God, even when it does not see to the end of it, and says, if there is a purpose that some should be exalted above us, we should love them the more on that account because perfect love seeketh not her own. I don't know what passed through the soul of Christ in the garden of Gethsemane, I don't know what burden it was that crushed Him there, and caused him to say even at this late hour “O Father, if it be possible,” if there is another way, “let this cup pass from me, nevertheless not what I will, but thy will be done." Without Gethsemane, there would not have been that extremity of dedication, which we find in the Saviour, when He discarded all possibility finally and fully, as man of any alternative and said thy will be done.
That is the answer to sin, because Satan had revolted against the will of God, He did not assent or consent to the divine wisdom, he regarded himself as a creation that had the right and title to be independent of the eternal God, else God had no right to create him. You hear the same thing echoing in many a man’s heart and mouth in these days, I didn't ask to come here, I didn't ask to be put in this world. Whereas life itself, is so infinite a treasure, that we ought to bow in deep thankfulness before God every day of our lives, and thank him that it pleased Him to create us, and grant unto us the joy and the fullness of life and the promise of the glory that is to be. So that if Christ, bore all the evil of all the universe, and answered the great question which hangs over all creation, both in Heaven and in earth, and by this means proved Himself, in perfect love and absolute sacrifice, and self negation to be worthy of the eternal rule, to be worthy of being Creator, that all creation henceforth might worship Him, not simply because He was wise and Almighty, but because He was humble and meek, and because He became the lowest of all. Because He had shown us what perfect love was, which is the element of all heaven, and of the being of God, and so provided for us the certainty, the sureness of that destiny which awaits.
Hence in this sense, the atonement is cosmic. There is a theological term that is very much in evidence in these days, we call it the doctrine of the limited atonement, personally I never use that term. If I want a term that expresses what this is supposed to represent, I always use the term particular redemption. I think it’s safer and is more understandable, because there's a sense in which the atonement cannot be limited, it affects not only all men, but it affects all angels, it affects all Hell, it affects the devil himself. It has to do with the final answer to the evil that is in the Universe, so that evil can never again rise up, and even in hell there will be unanimity amongst fallen angels and impenitent men. For all eternity there will be unanimity as to the worthiness of Christ to rule. Does not Paul say that at the name of Jesus every knee must bow to him, of things in Heaven, things in earth and things under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.
Let us remember this, there will be no sin in hell, there will be no possibility of sin ever being committed anymore, Satan will just bear eternally the consequences of his own evil, in the silence and the dumbness of his final assent, to the glory of God and the name of Christ, and along with him every soul cast away into the blackness of that darkness for ever, that darkness that descends upon spirits, takes possession of spirits, which were once light, but have now departed from light. There will be unanimity in all creation, and never again will sin rise up a second time to disturb the peace and the state of perfect love in the regions of the divine triumph. So we perceive that the atonement is cosmic, it affects all being therefore it cannot be limited, accept as to its application to the penitent, and the believing. For in order to enjoy the benefits of Christ's atonement, it is perfectly obvious that we too in a great act of self surrender which we call faith and repentance, we turn from our own sins, we acknowledge the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus, and in an instant that righteousness becomes ours. As a justifying righteousness we enter into a great new birth, into the new creation and we begin to learn the lesson of perfect love
So we see that the salvation of the sinner is not an end in itself, it is only the beginning of the glory of God, the first step that we take on the road back, which shall end at the throne of God, when this word shall be completely understood.
“To him that overcometh, will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I overcame, and I am sat down with my Father in His throne,” or again in the 17th. Chapter of John, where He so wonderfully says “That they all might be one.” That's not the ecumenical oneness in this world, this is the eternal oneness of the redeemed in Heaven, with the eternal Father. It Is a wonderful oneness, “That they all might be one, as thou Father art in me, and I in thee, that they might be one in us, that the whole creation might know, that I am thine, and thou art mine, and these are mine.” The final word must ever be, that which penetrated the soul of John the divine, when there was given to him the vision of the Revelation,”Every creature which was in heaven, and earth and under the earth heard I saying, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, to receive power and glory and riches and honour and blessing forever and forever”. Amen.

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