Australian Christadelphian Central Standing Committee
Unity In Australia

Address: “The Atonement” (John Carter)


Full audiences of brethren and sisters whose hearts and minds were bent toward the achievement of Unity, were deeply appreciative of an address entitled “THE ATONEMENT” given by Bro. Carter in several states and for his outstanding address in Sydney on “ISAIAH CHAPTER 53”.

Reproduced here are the two addresses under these respective headings, which, while lifting consideration of the nature and sacrifice of Christ to a high spiritual plane, made clear by appeal to both heart and intellect, the doctrinal issues involved.


Delivered in Malvern Town Hall (Melbourne), 1958.

Dear Brethren and Sisters,

You have already been reminded that this is a subject that has been the occasion of controversy in our midst. It is not a peculiarity of our Body, for the history of Christendom reveals that the subject has been a source of strife and dissention through the ages. It might seem futile therefore, that we should ever attempt to contribute something by way of a help towards an understanding of a subject that must, of itself, be beset with a certain amount of difficulty, and yet withal, this subject is vital to our standing. We believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. We believe that in him, God raised up a son in order that we might be saved. We have come to recognise by a knowledge of the Truth that we are mortal men and women; and that apart from Christ Jesus there is no hope of the future; and that future will be realised by a resurrection from the dead when he comes again.

We recognise that Jesus Christ was the Son of God; and we must give due place for that. At the same time, we recognise that the doctrine of the trinity is one that is not found in the pages of the Bible. The twin errors of the doctrine of the trinity and the immortality of the soul, which have beset and entangled the paths of those who have sought to expound this doctrine in the orthodox churches, is one from which we ourselves are free. We can come to the subject with an understanding of the basic facts, that we are mortal because of sin, and that in Jesus Christ we have one whom God raised up to save His people from their sins. Among the first things that the Apostle Paul preached when he went to Corinth was, that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures. “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins,” said the Apostle in his letter to the Ephesians, and so on in. numberless passages that could be quoted.

This subject affects us closely. It may indeed be, in beginning our life in the Truth, sufficient that we understand the basic facts connected with this work of Jesus Christ, but as we grow older in the Truth, we naturally want to know some things connected with the how and why God did this work in Christ Jesus.

We are entering into a discussion and a consideration of God’s ways, which are higher than our ways and His thoughts are higher than our thoughts. Yet so far as He has revealed them, it is our duty to seek humbly and patiently to follow wherein He has revealed.

We would say that, among the primary things for the student in this field, there should be a humility of mind; teachableness from the word of God. For the presence of arrogance is something that can befoul our thinking and hinder us from the right appreciation of the Word of God.

The Pattern Student was the Lord Jesus Christ himself, who spoke of God opening his ears and he was not disobedient. He listened to the counsel of God and sought in all his ways to serve Him. So it is with regard to those that are at last redeemed; it is written in the prophets: “They shall all be taught of God,” and it is as humble students of the Word of God that we come together tonight, to see if we can by looking at some of the passages of scripture, wherein God has spoken of these wondrous ways in Christ Jesus for our redemption, we might appreciate a little the more what God has done for us in His beloved son.


The words of scripture bound up with this subject are such that we ought to try to ascertain their meanings. Words are used as the instrument of thought and of course it is important that we have a right understanding of words. There are a great number of words bound up with this subject. We are not going to traverse them all, but we do want to suggest to you, that a comprehensive examination of this subject would involve a whole series of studies, of the meanings and usages of words. Such for example, “redemption” and its cognate word “ransom”, with the related term of “Bought”. There are the words “enmity” and “alienation” and their counterparts “reconciled” and “forgiven”. There is the word “righteousness” and the related words, although they come from another root in English, “justification”, “justify”, and “just”. There is the word “sanctification”, and the word “propitiation”, and we come to the series of terms that are used in connection with the work of Jesus in relation to our sins, such as “bearing our sins”, “bearing our sins in his body to the tree”; “he suffered for sins”; “the remission of sins”. We have the series of terms used as descriptive of the work of the Lord himself, such as the phrase, “The blood of Christ” where we must think beyond the literal and think of what is meant by “the blood of Christ”, as the token of the sacrifice of Christ. Then we must go forward again and ask of what did his sacrifice consist? Why was it necessary? We have the phrases related to the offering of the body of Jesus once and far all and the phrase “laying down his life”. We have the phrase “the sacrifice of Christ” and we are told “that Christ died for us”. Now here are a whole range of words, and we have not gathered them all together by any means; every one of which ought to receive careful consideration before we enter the lists as disputants in such a doctrine as this. I am quite sure that a patient examination of these words would make us a little the more humble in our study of the scriptures; and a little more patient of the shortcoming of others in their understanding. It would increase a greater diligence in ourselves, that we be sure that we understand rightly the words that are used.


Now the word “Atonement” occurs once in the Bible, and there it is a word related to “reconciliation”. In fact, the word which Paul used which is translated “Atonement” in one passage of the Bible, is translated “reconciliation” in the R.V. But let us look at that verse at the beginning of our examination of this subject. In Romans Chapter 5, you will find that many of the phases that we have already cited as pertaining to this subject are mentioned. Reading in the 6th verse, “when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly”. “For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commended his ‘own’ (RV) love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. 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. And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the ‘atonement’,” (or as the margin has it, the “reconciliation”). The word is indeed related to the word translated “reconciled”, “for if when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his son, much more being reconciled”. So the Apostle repeating the word again says “by whom we have now received the “reconciliation”. But at once, when we use the word “reconciliation”, we realise that we are dealing with personal relationships. Estrangement is a matter of something that has come between persons. What has come between ourselves and God is that we are sinners. While we were sinners Christ died for us; and the purpose of the work of reconciliation is, that we who were enemies might be made friends and brought into harmony with God. In order that this might be done, we have been the subjects of justification, whatever that might be, as we come to examine it a little later. What we want to emphasise first of all is that reconciliation has to do with a relationship between individuals. In this case between ourselves, as sinners, and God.


Now we must come to the question, “Why is it that, as sinners, we are alienated from God? What is sin?” Now the Apostle tells us something about sin in the next verse to what we have read, in the 12th verse of Romans Ch. 5. He is beginning a series of comparisons between Adam and the results of his sin; and Christ and the result of his work of obedience. Here he states the foundation upon which he is going to reason out this work of God in Christ. “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned,” and then in the characteristic way of Paul, he drops into a parenthesis and does not resume it until the 18th verse; when he takes up the word “therefore”. “Therefore,” as by this so something else in connection with Christ Jesus.

But first of all let us look at this basis, this “Wherefore as by this” before we come to consider, “so that” as to what. “Wherefore as by one man”—and Paul has four affirmations in this verse, “As by one man sin entered into the world; secondly, that death came through sin; thirdly, that death passed through to all men; and fourthly, for that all have sinned.” In this connection let us say quite firmly, that the marginal reference, “in whom” is not permissible as a translation. The Apostle is saying, one, that Adam sinned; secondly, that death entered the world of mankind as a result of his sin; thirdly, that all of us share in that death which has come into the world as his descendants, with the added point that all of us, as a consequence of that sin in the beginning, are ourselves sinners.


What is sin? Sin is defined by John in the A.V. translation, as transgression of law (1 John 3:4). More profoundly, and in keeping with the words of Paul, the revisers have given us, “Sin is lawlessness.” We go back to the beginning, to the time when sin entered into the world, in the light of that interpretation, and we think of Adam and Eve made very good, though of the dust of the ground. They were placed on probation, because, that by virtue of their constitution, they were reasoning beings and moral beings. Because of that they had the capacity to respond to right or wrong. Because of their very mental and moral constitution, with their consequent personal relationship to God, made in the image of God, it was necessary that law should be given. God told them that of every tree of the garden they may freely eat; but said that if they disobeyed they should surely die.

Now doubt entered the woman’s mind through the suggestion of the serpent, and it is interesting to observe, in the detailed accuracy of the record which we have in the scriptures throughout, that the woman trimmed as the result of doubt entering her mind. She dropped the word “freely”, making God a little arbitrary. No longer was it “of every tree we may freely eat” but “of every tree we may eat.” But she also dropped the word “surely” concerning the certainty of the consequences, and so we can see how doubt assails the mind; a trimming of the word of God and then a reaching out for that which is forbidden. Adam partook with her of the forbidden fruit and we behold this man and woman, who before had sweet and free converse with God, now become aware of a sense of shame and fear. They hide themselves from God, and are themselves aware of the necessity of covering themselves. We know how God repudiated their own devices for their covering; and substituted that which he himself provided in the covering of skins; but we mustn’t go into the typology of that at the present time. But sufficient to notice that they experienced a sense of shame and the sentence was passed that “dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return”. Here death came. as the Apostle says, into the world through sin.


But by and by children are born. What is it that they inherit? This nature related to death, that had now become the lot of Adam and his wife. How could it be otherwise? But something else is evident: there is a bias in their nature inherited too; and we see in the offspring of the first pair, one who pursues righteousness and one who thought evil and who murdered his brother. It is a melancholy fact that the Apostle testifies that the whole race are transgressors before God. In the opening chapter of his letter to the. Romans, Paul indicted the Gentile world of all their abominable practices, in which he three times said, “God has given them up to their own devices.” It is a law of God. God gives them up to their own devices, with an ever overwhelming calamity of evil, until at last at the very climax of it the Apostle says “they not only do evil but rejoice in them that do it”. Was the Jewish world any better? Not a bit; although they had the law, they by it, only became more acutely aware of the fact that they were sinners. The Apostle says that all the world is guilty before God. “All have sinned and come short of the Glory of God,” and that is the result of transgression in Eden. “All have sinned”: there is one blessed exception, but it needed the work of God in raising up a saviour; to produce a man among men who was sinless.


But let us think a little further about sin. I wonder if we have given sufficient attention to it. Sin leaves its mark upon the individual. If anyone of us sin, it leaves its mark upon us. A man may be guilty of a little sharp practice in his business and he experiences a sense of shame. But the second time he does it, the shame is not so keen and after repeated acts he comes at last to rationalise, as modem psychologists describe it. He rationalises the process and justifies, what, at the beginning caused him a sense of shame. Thus it is that we sometimes behold the spectacle of a man who was once upright in his dealings, gradually falling away from the standard of right until at last we read of him being in the court, having been guilty of some serious embezzlement or some other crime. But it’s been by a gradual decline in many cases, through the lowering of a standard; and instead of a consciousness of sin, very often that man only manifests self pity.

Why is it? It is because sin has a peculiarly blinding effect upon us. Sin distorts the view of righteousness. Sin deceives. The Apostle speaks of the deceitfulness of sin and in a very striking figure he can even say: “that Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light”; that so deceiving is sin, that he can even parade as righteousness. But here is one of the dire consequences that comes with sin, that the more a man becomes familiar with it as performing and yielding himself to it, so he becomes less aware of the real character of sin. It is one of the most striking of the moral laws of God, that the more a man knows of sin the less he is aware of what it is.


Here, brethren and sisters, is one of the secondary problems, and a very real one, bound up with the fact of sin. William James in one of his books, tells the story of a man who had repeatedly given way to drink, and he repeatedly said as he yields once more, “I will not count this one.” And James comments: “he may not and a merciful heaven may not, but the cells of his brain are recording every lapse and every lapse that comes makes the next one easier.” Which means that sin, in its out-working, becomes at last a part of the individual himself. So that when we come to the question of the forgiveness of sins we must face the problem: how can sin be forgiven when it has become a part of the individual himself, and it is the expression of what the man has become? When we see the enormity of sin as it is revealed for us in the Bible, we begin to appreciate what a terrible problem it is; how many that are sinners can be reconciled to God.


There are one or two passages of scripture that we would like to quote in this connection. We turn to 1 John, chapter 2 and verse 11. Reading from verse 9 for the connection: “He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now. He that loveth his brother abideth in the light and there is none occasion of stumbling in him. But he that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness”, and mark this “and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes”. There you have, in stark, simple language, an annunciation of the fact, that sin can so distort the vision that at last a man is disabled from seeing. What can you do to break in to such a bondage as that?

But Isaiah has said much the same thing before. Will you turn to Isaiah Chap. 44. Here is an indictment of idolatry. Derisively the prophet pictures a man choosing a tree of some good wood, cutting it down, engaging a carpenter to make for him an image; and he uses the remainder of the chippings to light a fire to warm himself and to bake his bread. He said in verse 18, “they have not known nor understood: for He hath shut their eyes, that they cannot see; and their hearts that they cannot understand.” Here is the expression of that law of God to which we have referred. These men were going in darkness and could not discern the fact that they were so walking “and none,” saith the prophet, “considereth in his heart, neither is there knowledge nor understanding to say, I have burnt part of it in the fire; yea also I have baked bread upon the coals thereof; I have roasted flesh and eaten it; and shall I make the residue thereof an abomination? Shall I fall down to the stock of a tree?” The Divine comment is, “He feedeth on ashes: a deceived heart hath turned him aside that he cannot deliver his soul, nor say, Is there not a lie in my right hand?” He cannot deliver his soul neither can he discern that a lie is in his right hand.


These passages and these considerations are by no means exhausted; but help us to appreciate what is involved in sin in its dire effects upon ourselves; and as affecting our relationship to the Almighty. There is, perhaps, nowhere in the scriptures a greater piece of poignant biography than what we have in the 7th chapter of the letter to the Romans, where the Apostle, examining himself, speaks of his efforts after righteousness and his failure to attain it. He came to know the Truth and was conscious of a conflict within himself, so that the things that he would do he failed to perform, and the things that he would not do, he did. He cried out in his anguish; “O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?”

A criticism must be levelled here against some interpretations. The Roman Catholics, for example, assert that the Apostle was guilty of some carnal sin and he was here referring to it. Others explain it as having reference to Paul before he came into contact with Christ. Some have expressed a doubt how the Apostle, so earnest and righteous a man, could thus speak. But here we get the inverse of that of which we spoke when we said: sin blinded the eyes. It is the man who seeks after righteousness who is the most acutely aware of his shortcomings. Thus you have the apparent paradox, that a man who seems to stand high above his fellows in his zeal for righteousness and the holiness of his walk; can yet bemoan the fact that he is the chief of sinners. But it is in perfect harmony with what we find to be the facts, concerning sin and its effects.

But before we leave this subject I want to comment on a usage of words. The Apostle in this 7th chapter of Romans, verse 20, speaks of sin that dwelleth in him. “Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. For I know that in me (that is in my flesh), dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.” What is it that is within us, that the Apostle describes as sin? Clearly there are the impulses that lead to sin. There are impulses there that are the result of sin at the beginning, which we have by inheritance. But if we may here turn aside to the use of grammatical terms, in order that we might define the matter; in what way is sin used here? Sin is lawlessness. Sin is the expression of ourselves in defiance of the will of God, either in thought or act.


But how could Paul speak of these impulses which were latent in him, which sprang to life as he said, when the commandment came? How can he speak of them as sin? By a well known figure of speech; the figure of speech of metonymy is that where a word which stands related to another as cause or effect, or a mere adjunct maybe, is put for that to which it stands related. And sometimes we find brethren speaking of two aspects of sin. It might be permissible to use the phrase, providing it is understood. But I want to enter here and now a mild caveat against the use of that phrase, “two aspects of sin.” There are not two aspects of sin, there are many aspects of sin. Sin is what? Well you have a list of the works of the flesh; Adultery and all the abominations with a list of other things such as ill-will, bitterness, wrath, anger, strife, sedition and so on. All these are aspects of sin. They are all aspects of something that comes within the one category.

But now the Apostle uses sin by Metonymy and immediately you say, he uses it by metonymy it isn’t an aspect of sin. It’s a use of the word in another sense, used by a figure. Let me give you one or two illustrations: you have aspects of a mountain, you look at it from one vantage point and you look at it from another vantage point and you see different aspects of it. But you speak of a man’s troubles and you say: he makes mountains out of molehills. Would you say that a man’s troubles was an aspect of mountains? No! You would say by a figure of speech, as describing his troubles as mountains; but they are not an aspect of mountains. In a similar way we turn to another figure, the figure of metaphor. The Lord said, “this is my body.” The Roman Catholic insists upon it in its literal terms and insists that the bread is the body of Jesus. We say No! That is the use of metaphor. “All flesh is grass” is metaphor. “All flesh is as grass” is the figure simile. The figure simile is literally true. Figure metaphor is boldly true though not literally accurate. Jesus said “this is my body” but would you say that there are two aspects of the body of Jesus, one of flesh and one of flour? Because “all flesh is grass” would you say that there are two aspects of grass; one with roots and the other with legs? You say No! One is used as a figure and one is an expression of a literal fact. So it is with regard to this. We mustn’t preach sin that dwells in us; which is a word used metonymically for the impulses within us, as being sin in that sense of lawlessness of which the Apostle speaks. I think that if we can get that clear in our minds, we are getting rid of some of the problems that have beset us in connection with this. I have here several illustrations from the scriptures of the use of metonymy, but my time is going quicker than I am with my address. But don’t forget that we use metonymy in our ordinary speech and sometimes do not recognise it.

I had a very happy journey into the country with two brethren and as we passed a house, which had been built by the chemist who made Aspro popular, they said: that house is built on Aspro. You don’t think of foundations of Aspro on which the house is built. You mean, that house was built by the profits that were made from the sales of Aspro. By metonymy, you say it was built on Aspro. We use it in ordinary speech but we use our commonsense in the understanding of it.

Now let us press on. If Sin is such as we have seen, what can the remedy be? Now let us think first of all, that sin is in itself a challenge to God. Adam said, I am going to do my way, when he had an obligation to do God’s way and, as the result of man’s sin, he introduced a duality into God’s universe and God’s supremacy was challenged. What else could God do under those circumstances than impose death, if He is going to maintain His supremacy. We might think about that but we cannot extend it.


But another thought comes in connection with it, and it is this: if God is supreme, God cannot allow man’s challenge to go without response, because God cannot allow man’s sin to frustrate the purpose that He had in placing man upon the earth. But the two things bring us to a focal point, the problem bound up with reconciliation. How can God, while maintaining His own principles of righteousness and maintaining His own supremacy (which involves that man should be sentenced with death) yet achieve the purpose in harmony with that, whereby men who should die because of their sin, can at last, be sharers in the eternal purpose of God. But listen to these expressions from Isaiah chapter 43 verse 22: “But thou hast not called upon me, Oh Jacob; but thou hast been weary of me, O Israel. Thou hast not brought ME.” (We must emphasise the “Me” to bring out the sense. They had been following the practices of sacrifice and so on, but they hadn’t done it according to God’s will and in real service to Him.) “Thou hast not brought me the small cattle of thy burnt offering; neither hast thou honoured me with thy sacrifices. I have not caused thee to serve with an offering, nor wearied thee with incense. Thou hast brought me no sweet cane with money, neither hast thou filled me with the fat of thy sacrifices. BUT (and mark these words) thou hast made me to serve with thy sins, thou hast wearied me with thine iniquities” and yet despite that, God said: “I, even I am He that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake and will not remember thy sins”.

In the 45th chapter the prophet gives what is the final reason for the folly of idolatry. Reading at the 20th verse, “assemble yourselves and come; draw near together ye that are escaped of the nations”, and say unto the nation: “they have no knowledge that set up the wood of their graven image and pray unto a god that cannot save.” For a god that cannot save has abdicated his position as god. Since an image cannot save it is proved to be no god. So God announces Himself as the Saviour. “Tell ye and bring them near; yea, let them take counsel together; who hath declared this from ancient time? Who hath told it from that time? Have not I the Lord? And there is no God else beside me; a Just God and a Saviour; there is none beside me. Look unto me and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is none else.” There is brought together, in that juxtaposition of terms, the very nerve of this problem: that God is at once a just God and a Saviour. The prophet goes on to speak of all being brought to bow the knee to God; which you will remember the Apostle takes up and applies to God’s work in Christ in his letter to the Philippians. How then can He save? What has He done that we might be saved? Well, we know that He has raised up Jesus, who lived a life of perfect obedience to Him; an obedience which in his case, took him to the cross. “For,” said Paul, “He was obedient in all things, even to the death of the cross.”


And now we must press beyond the mere externals in the declaration of the facts accomplished, to ask what was there about the death of Jesus that made it possible for God to forgive us our sins; and to receive us into His favour? We must look at Jesus and see first of all, with all the emphasis that the Apostle puts upon it, that he shared our nature. To cite one passage: (Heb. 2:14)— “Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he took part of the same.” But the Apostle is not content with that, he says: “He also took part of the same”, and even that isn’t sufficient: “He also, himself, took part of the same” and even that isn’t enough: “He also himself, likewise, took part of the same.” With that assertion of the likeness of Jesus to us, in his nature, we may be content here. But because of that it is affirmed of him: “for he was tempted in all points like as we are”; but with this difference: “yet without sin”. He was beset by trials and difficulties, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. Yet in the words of the prophet Isaiah verse 8 of the 50th chapter, he could say: “He is near that justifieth me:” and to justify is to pronounce righteous. Jesus is the only one that could lay claim to the fact, that God would justify him in the primary sense of the word; that God would pronounce him to be righteous. So Peter, who had looked on Jesus when he stood before his judges, could recognise by revelation afterwards, that when he stood there, reviled and threatened, but not threatening in return; that he was committing himself to Him that judgeth righteously. The righteous judge pronounced His son to be righteous by raising him up from death.

But he was there, one of us, and God raised up one who was like us, and yet who, because he was the son of God, was able to live a perfectly obedient life. Thus, upon the very conditions that had brought death through sin, He provided the way for resurrection from the dead and the bestowal of immortality upon the beloved son of God.


But what was done by Jesus that he might be the saviour? There is a passage in the letter to the Romans, which I think is the key; passage and I’m going to dwell principally on this. Will you turn to Romans chapter 3 verse 23? The Apostle says; “For all have sinned, and come short of the Glory of God; being justified (or pronounced righteous) freely by his grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:” (you notice how these words come in, that I listed at the beginning, all of which need explaining). “Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God: To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness; that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.” Here is the key passage to this subject. Let us look at it a little more closely. “Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation.” The word is an adjective, “a propitiatory” and the noun has to be supplied. Some have suggested supplying the word “gift” that is “a propitiatory gift.” But the identical word is used in the letter to the Hebrews of the place of propitiation. The propitiatory place, the Mercy Seat; and the word is translated “mercy seat” in the letter to the Hebrews.

But at once we are led back to the symbolism of the O.T. ritual. What was the mercy seat? God himself defined it as the place of meeting. “There will I meet with thee and there will I commune with thee.” But that meeting with God was not one of free access at that time. Only once every year, the high priest, stripped of the regalia of his office and not as the head of the Levitical system; but in white robes symbolic of the white righteousness of the man who would enter, pulled aside the veil to go in, with blood which was sprinkled upon the mercy seat. It was a prophecy of the opening of the way to God: but it was a declaration of the fact that the way was not then opened. For the high priest came out and the curtain fell to, and the act was repeated year by year, a testimony, as the Apostle says. to the inefficacy of the ritual. But it was a prophecy of one to come, through whom the way would be opened and the significance of that fact was when the Lord died, and the veil of the temple was rent in twain from top to bottom. It was God’s work and it was a declaration of the fact that, through the death of Jesus, the way was open to access to the Father. As the Apostle says in the 5th chapter of his letter to the Romans verse 2, “We have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand.” So Jesus has been set forth as a propitiation. There, upon the basis of one coming with shed blood, there, as the throne of God, and although a throne, the place where God the King had his abode, it was there the place of mercy. So the Apostle brings together the fact that we are to come boldly to the throne of grace. It was a throne, let us not forget that. A throne in which the principles of God’s holiness were upheld as a condition of man’s approach through the ritual ceremony of shed blood. So in Romans 3:25 the Apostle goes on: “to be a propitiation (mercy seat) through faith” (that is our response to what God has done) “in his blood”. At once we must go back to the ritual type again and ask what does this mean? The blood of the animal was a token of life taken and an identification of the man with the animal; by placing his hands upon its head and saying in effect: This is what ought to happen to me; I’m taking its life but I’m the sinner and death is due to me. It becomes the ritual expression of the fact that the man recognises that death was due for sin.


What did the Lord do in his sacrifice? The Apostle goes on to explain: “to declare His righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God.” “To declare His righteousness”, leads us to consider in this connection, a phrase closely akin to it, which was used by the Lord himself, when He came to the baptism of John: “suffer it to be so now for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness.” What did the Lord mean by that? Let our imagination play around the circumstances just a little. Here was John calling upon men to repent of their sins and to be baptised; and a procession of men, day by day, while he was preaching, wade out into the Jordan to be baptised of him. What was John preaching? The gospels do not tell us specifically, but the prophecy in Isaiah 40:6 tells us that the voice who was the herald of the Lord, had to cry: “and he said, What shall I cry?” and the message he had to give was: “all flesh is grass and the glory of man as the flower of the field; the grass withereth, and the flower thereof fadeth away. Surely the people is grass.” We in England with our evergreen fields, cannot appreciate the force of the figure used. I’ve been in Palestine in Autumn time and the green and flowered fields of spring have all passed away and all you see is the brown bare hillsides. Here and there, there may be a goat or a camel eating, you cannot tell what, but it’s just the tufts of dried herbage. The grass has come and gone and to people familiar with such a cycle of life, there comes home with a terrific message, the comparison of man with grass. He is here and then gone. Man is mortal. That was the message John had to give.

Now we go back to John in Jordan and one day, perhaps the last of many people who had gone down into the water, there steps forward a grave young man in the fullness of his powers, with a quiet reserve and dignity. When all others had said to John: I confess my sins and my iniquities and my transgressions, for the Hebrew language was rich in words descriptive of man’s falling short of God’s standard; and this man says what? We do not know. It may be he said something like this: I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day. But we may be sure that he said something like that and we can understand John’s recoil as he said: “I have need to be baptised of thee and comest thou to me?” Then comes the answer of Jesus, “Suffer it to be so now, for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness.” The Lord, against the background of the message of John that all flesh is grass, that man is mortal and Jesus is the sharer of our mortality, witnesses to his acknowledgment of the fact by the symbolic baptism, as he goes down into this symbolic death, fulfilling all righteousness. It was only a symbol but what was there a symbol was wrought out in fact, three and a half years later, when he voluntarily went to the cross.

There is a convergence of all kinds of things in connection with the cross, but isolating for the moment this particular aspect, the Lord could have turned back at any time. Did he not plead in his agony in the garden: “if it be possible let this cup pass, but not my will but thine be done”, and he went forward in the stern consciousness that he must do his Father’s will and voluntarily accepted crucifixion. Paul said (Rom. 3:25) that God set him forth “to declare His righteousness”, to provide the conditions whereby God could forgive sins. Paul emphasises the fact that it was to declare the righteousness of God by repeating it as you notice, “To declare, I say at this time, His righteousness; that He might be just.” And now we must stop to point out that the word “just” and its cognate word “justifier” and the related word “justification”, are a build up in English from one root. We have the word “righteous” and we have the word “righteousness”, but we have no verb from the same root. We cannot say “to righteousify”, and so the translators have taken words from two roots where Paul used one word. Let us paraphrase then the Apostle: “to declare I say at this time His righteousness, that He might be righteous Himself and the bestower of righteousness on him which believeth in Jesus.”

So Paul emphasises that the essential fact is, that Jesus declared the righteousness of God.


Now we have been led along the way to understand what he did, as we considered his baptism. Here he was, a mortal man. Was it right that he was related to death as a member of the race: Was God righteous in His decrees? The answer is in the voluntary submission to that on the part of Jesus; that God was right and he upheld the law of God and vindicated the righteousness of God. He did it as one of us, as a representative man and in the very fact that he was a representative man we have that which provides the nexus between himself and God. While God has set him forth to be the place of meeting, in a man who thus upheld His righteousness; God said if you will identify yourself with him for his sake, I will forgive you your sins and receive you to favour. Therefore it is. that when the Apostle, (Romans 6:4) would speak of the significance of our baptism, he said, “we are buried with him by baptism into death” but before our baptism there is something else, and it is an important fact in connection with it. We come to baptism with the recognition that we are being baptised for the remission of our sins; and with a consciousness that we are sinners in God’s sight. We come with a consciousness that we have done wrong and we repent, and that we are willing to turn our back on sin and turn our faces to righteousness. That is our contribution in the first instance to this problem of reconciliation. For such is the nature of sin that you cannot pass it by lightly.


How tragic has been many a home life, when one of the children of the home has followed the course of waywardness and the parents have lightly passed it by. What an anguished problem a parent has when one of the children takes wrong ways. How much they enter, in their love for the offspring, into the question of how the one gone astray can be reclaimed, in order that they might turn back from the evil and turn their paths into right. That in a dim sort of way, brethren and sisters, is what is involved in our approach to God. We should turn our backs on sin and recognise it for what it is, and recognise ourselves as sinners, then we reach out to an appreciation of the fact that God will forgive us our sins for Christ’s sake. We are identified with him and buried with him, by baptism into his death, “that like as Christ was raised from the dead by the Glory of the Father: so we also should walk in newness of life.” (Rom. 6:4). It is in the use of that word “with” which recurs in the 6th chapter of the letter to the Romans, that we have this principle of our identification with him in the recognition of the principles that he upheld. So we are identified “with” him as the second Adam. As in the first Adam, by our inheritance in him, we receive this mortality, so in the second one we receive this hope of life; the forgiveness of sins; the hope of resurrection from the dead; and emancipation from this body of corruption to which we are subject.


There is a passage in the letter to the Galatians, where the Apostle expresses in rather different terms, this fact of identification with Christ. In the 2nd Chapter, 19th verse, he says: “I, through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God.” We might point out that this is part of the reply of Paul to Peter, when Peter and Barnabas dissembled in Antioch, but the point of Paul’s citation, of what he told Peter, was that the ecclesias in Galatia had defected from the Truth and were turning to the beggarly elements, away from the cross of Christ as the means of their redemption. The Apostle had set forth Christ among them, as he said in the opening verse of chapter three, “Before whose eyes Jesus” has been PLACARDED before you, that is “crucified among you” and now they were turning back to life by the law. Since when Paul had met Peter and recited to Peter the same fact, in reciting it his mind travelled back to his address in Galatia. We have the little bit of biography, so full of emotion, yet never, never straying from the sheerly logical presentation of this work in Paul through Christ’s sacrifice. “I through the Law am dead to the Law, that I might live unto God. I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not frustrate the grace of God; for if righteousness came by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.” So Paul could say, “I am crucified with Christ.”

It is written in the gospels, there were two other crucified with Christ. There you have on the stake the central figure, and two other crucified with him. Paul who was well known to the Jewish authorities, the favourite pupil of Gamaliel, a man presently to have a seat in the Sanhedrin, had been fully aware of this work of Jesus during his ministry. Why, Josephus tells us that there were two million Jews in Jerusalem at the Passover and the news of Jesus and his ministry had travelled throughout Jewry and throughout the world. Not merely those in Israel were agog with excitement as to whether Jesus was the Messiah or not, the whole nation was alive with it. Well indeed might the authorities say, not at the feast day lest there be a tumult; when you think of the numbers in the city. Paul, although living in Tarsus, knew all about it we may be sure. He had assented to what the authorities had done. In thought he stood with the crowd around and jeered as the rulers had jeered. “He saved others, himself he cannot save.” Then when Paul was on his persecuting work to Damascus, he met the risen Lord and Paul’s whole thought world came shattering down in ruins as he thought, that he was wrong and these Christians in their belief in Christ were right, for Christ was risen. Therefore Christ had received God’s approval and the only way for Paul was to start and rethink his whole thought and change his allegiance. It means that Paul who stood around and jeered must now step across, whatever the rest of the jeerers might think, must step across the space and take his place with “other crucified with him.” Paul must be crucified with him.

That is what Paul means; and it is with all the vividness of a man who had seen crucifixion enacted again and again in the Holy Land, that he can use the figure. There is no glamour about it such as we see sometimes associated with the cross of Christ. It was a sheer stark disagreeable awkward thing, that a man was crucified and Paul had to take his place with him; with all the shame that was associated with it in men’s minds. But it was God’s way, God’s principles upheld and Paul must be there, identified with God’s principles upheld in Christ.


Then Paul found something else: that though he was crucified with Christ he says, “yet I live”. How did he live? “The life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Gal. 2:20.) Or as he puts it in his letter to the Corinthians (2 Cor. 5:14), “The love of Christ constraineth me, for I thus judge that if one died for all then all died,” Immediately we begin to see this effect of the love of God in Christ; we realise that here is an emancipation from that thraldom of sin that we found was part of the problem, that sin had become ourselves and how could we be delivered from it? Here is the answer: our sins are forgiven and a new motive power is brought into our life, whereby, reconciled to God, we can live as unto God to the Glory of His name. This, brethren and sisters, is the way God reconciles us. It is all bound up with the personal relationship between ourselves and Him.

He has wrought in Christ to provide us a Redeemer, who, sharing our nature, went to the cross to declare the righteousness of God; and we identify ourselves with him in upholding God’s righteousness and God is honoured, as God will be honoured in all His ways. “I will be sanctified in them that draw nigh unto me.” Sanctifying him in our humble approach, in submitting to the symbol of death, which is our due in identification with Christ in baptism; we rise, not to our old selves, but to walk in newness of life as men and women reconciled to God, in hope of the great salvation that is established in Christ Jesus.

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