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For whom Christ died (CMPA)

"FOR God 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). "And truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ... and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin" (1Jo 1:3-7). (Scriptural quotations in the text are either AV or RV.)

Why then should it be that of all things that have divided brethren over the years, the most deep-seated and long-lived controversies have centred upon the nature of the act which revealed the love of God, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the true meaning of fellowship? The answer is twofold. First, brethren have in all sincerity, and rightly, insisted that seriously inadequate ideas about the Atonement can be no proper basis for a fellowship built upon "our common salvation". Although John speaks of walking in light or darkness as the test of fellowship which God applies, the darkness of the understanding does also alienate from the life of God. Secondly, however, understanding has often been clouded by the use of non-scriptural phrases, or even words of scripture abstracted from a context, to be bandied about in discussion. The truth is that slogans are a counterfeit coinage in the exchange of Scriptural ideas. So phrases like "clean flesh", "free life", "defiled Christ", and even the hyphenated phrase "sin-in-the-flesh", carrying their own emotional overtones, not to mention shades of meaning, for different people who use them, have degraded the discussion of a majestic theme into a wrangle and barred the way to a common understanding of Scriptural truth.

One thing is certain. If it pleased God in His love to give His Son to die for us, it was to inspire us to love in our turn: for the Father, and the Son, and one another. We shall not have begun to understand the mystery of the death of Christ, no matter how exact our knowledge of the facts, if what we know leaves us with any will to bite and devour one another. The most elementary first principles of the meaning of the death of our Lord will have passed us by if in any way our acquaintance with it allows us to breathe out threatenings and slaughter against one another, or unsubmissively to go about to establish our own righteousness. The sufferings of Christ teach us not only truth, but a frame of mind: for they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh, with its affections and lusts. Paul is writing in the shadow of the cross when he writes: "Use not your freedom for an occasion to the flesh, but through love be servants one to another."

(John 3:16 ; Rom 5:8 ; 1Jo 4 :11; Phi 2:5; Gal 5:13-26; Rom 10:3; Acts 9:1.)

Another thing is no less certain. If God could foreshadow the offering of His Son in terms of many different sacrifices, and prefigure his work by means of an elaborate Tabernacle, and of priests in robes of intricate design, then we shall not be able to express the work he did in a set phrase or two of our own making, and suppose that we have comprehended it all. If the New Testament can speak of the death of Christ in relation to us as though it were the ransoming of slaves, or the crucifixion and burial of his friends as well as himself, or being washed clean by sprinkling of his blood, or the making and sealing of a covenant, and in other ways yet, any simple statements we might make on this subject, even when they are true and helpful, must inevitably leave much unsaid. It follows from this that any knowledge we have at any time on this subject should continue to grow as our experience, both of life and of the Word of God, becomes deeper and richer, and new needs call forth new understanding.

(Much of Exo-Num, and the summaries in Heb 1-10; Mat 20:28; Rom 6:1-11; Col 2: 11-l5; Heb 9:11-14; 12:24; 9:20; Col 1:24.)

A third thing is as sure. The cross of Christ will not be so hard to receive that only the learned in the Law can profit from it. There is enough in its scope to occupy all our hearts and minds for all our life: there is meaning enough in a simple and faithful acceptance of its call to give us grace and peace from that point on, and teach us love and forbearance with one another. No words of ours, however true, will exhaust the riches of a subject so vast:

"O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past tracing out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor?" (Rom 11:33-34).


We must start at this point, for otherwise we shall have no conception of what redemption means. We shall have no real understanding of what it is from which we seek deliverance. Even worse, we might be looking for the wrong thing: forgiveness without strings and without real repentance, or even a sort of legal bargain which will grant us righteousness without real effort or response from us.

The Bible is very plain. Of the nature of Adam after he fell there is no doubt. In the day that he sinned he was condemned to death. From that moment he was as good as dead. "By one man sin entered into the world and death by sin." All of us, save One, actually do sin and all, without any exception at all, are faced with the urge to do so, which is part and parcel of our fallen nature.

History shows it: the Fall of Adam was followed by the murder of Abel, and then by the multiplication of wickedness which arose from the indulgence of "every imagination of the thought of man's heart".

(Gen 3; Rom 5:12; 3:23; Heb 4:15; Gen 4; 6:5.)

Precept shows it too: the last quotation was almost a statement of what man's heart is like, and immediately following the Flood God pronounces that "the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth", a very plain statement of where sin springs from, stating equally plainly that we are not only tempted to sin from without: the temptation is there, powerful and urgent within. As James puts it, "Every man is tempted when he is drawn away of his own lusts, and enticed." The same root source of all our sinning is found in Jeremiah's statement, "The heart of man is deceitful above all things, and it is desperately sick." Paul makes the terrible statement that God gave hardened sinners over "in the lust of their own hearts" to all the evils to which they were abandoned. His picture of himself as of a man striving (so long as he was without Christ) helplessly against sin that dwelleth in him, unable to resist that which his enlightened conscience taught him to hate, is that of a man whose own desires war in his members against the will of God (like "your lusts that war in your members" of James). It leads him to the conclusion that good laws can never make a man good, because they are "weak through the flesh". And to Paul the flesh is a term which denotes the natural man, whose natural works he lists as "fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousies, wraths, factions, divisions, heresies, envyings, drunkenness, revellings, and such like" (that expressive etcetera at the end revealing that there is no limit to the things of which the natural man is capable, and to which he is by nature disposed).

(Gen 8:21; Jam 1:14; Jer 17:9; Rom 1:24, and throughout Rom 1-3; 7:1-24; 8:3; Jam 4:1; Gal 5:19-21.)

We need only the Lord Jesus' own confirmation of our position. And this he provides when he rejects the idea that defilement comes from outside, and tells us quite plainly whence come all our promptings to evil:

"That which proceedeth out of the man, that defileth the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, evil thoughts proceed, fornication, thefts, murders, adulteries, coveting, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, railing, pride, foolishness: all these evil things proceed from within, and defile the man" (Mark 7:1-23).

So there we have our human nature: through no fault of our own each one of us inherits desire contrary to the will of God. This is the "law of sin in our members". When we indulge it we actually commit sin. Our nature can only be like that of Adam after the Fall; nor can it be said that terms like "clean" or "undefiled" are in accord with the Scripture teaching set out above. So long as this nature is with us we are unfit for the Kingdom of God. That is why a man needs to be born again, and why the Lord Jesus Christ died and rose again to make this possible.

(John 3:3-5; Gal 5: 21; 1Co 6:10.)


Of course, the Lord Jesus Christ was born Son of God, as well as Son of man. And a very important thing it is that God was his Father. Yet it is vital to establish that the Lord's bodily nature was like our own, temptations and all. It is very readily done: he was made of a woman made under the Law; he was made in the likeness of men; because the children whom he came to redeem are of flesh and blood, he also himself in like manner partook of the same, he was made in all points like his brethren; he was sent in the likeness of sinful flesh. No distinction is ever made between the fleshly nature of the Lord and that of the rest of men: and therefore, having shown what this heritage implies in the way of temptation for us, we have already shown it for the Lord too. Those same desires which are strong in us, and which we fail to resist, were strong in him also.

(Gal 4:4; Phi 2:7-8; Heb 2:14; 2:17; Rom 8:3.)

So, notwithstanding his divine sonship, he learned obedience by the things that he suffered. He was tempted in all points like ourselves. It was with strong crying and tears that he endured his trials. No matter by what means they came to him in the wilderness, his temptations, the desire for food, for popularity and for power, were keenly felt in his heart and had to be rejected. When meditating entirely within himself he could contemplate the possibility of seeking escape from his hour rather than glorifying the name of God. He knew the attractiveness of deliverance from his foes with the help of twelve legions of angels, and needed to put aside the thought. Being a man he needed the conscious and continuous discipline of emptying himself, taking on himself the form of a servant, becoming and remaining obedient, even unto the death of the cross. His temptations were so like our own that, as our High Priest, he draws constantly upon the recollection of his own trials as he resisted temptation, and so can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, able to succour them that are tempted because he suffered under temptation himself.

(Heb 5:8; 4:15; 2:18; Mat 4:1-11; John 12:27; Phi 2:5-8.)

Even though he did no sin, and all his words and deeds were pure from his youth up, he was not prepared to allow men to call him good, as with the inherent and unassailable goodness which belongs to God. When he used the word we translate "perfect" about himself, it was only of what he would become as a result of his death and resurrection. When the Letter to the Hebrews uses the same word three times about him, it is again what he had achieved by his death. God made him perfect by suffering; being made perfect he became the Author of eternal salvation; the word of God's promise appoints the Son as priest, perfected for evermore. The Bible recognizes throughout the weakness of the Son of God in the days of his flesh, and places in his reliance upon the Word of God and upon the strength he sought from Him the credit for his victory: ''The Lord is at my right hand, therefore I shall not be moved."

(Mark 10:17-18; Luke 13:32; Heb 2:10; 5:9; 7:28; Psa 16:8.)

When Paul speaks of Jesus as coming "in the likeness of sinful flesh" (or flesh of sin), or "in the likeness of men", he cannot be understood as meaning that Jesus' make-up resembled these things, but was in reality different. In both cases he clearly means that, though our human nature left to itself had failed to overcome sin, when God sent His own Son born in the same human nature the victory was achieved. That the Lord's fleshly nature was that of Adam after he fell, is seen in the fact that he offered up prayers "with strong crying and tears, unto him that was able to save him from death: and was heard in that he feared. Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered." There is no need to rush to the Lord's defence as though there were any discredit to him in having been born with a nature prone to sin. This was his lot, which he accepted and overcame. Far greater was the triumph of battling against sin in a body where a fallen nature was entrenched, than would have been the case had he commenced in innocence with a human nature unspoiled by heritage from Adam. And far greater was his brotherhood in affliction, and now in mediation, with his brethren, when we acknowledge that he conquered that very nature, with all its urge to turn away from God, which we know in our own consciences so well. There is real meaning in the words "to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself" when this is acknowledged; and in the fullest possible sense he destroyed the devil through death on the cross when, after the pattern of the serpent which Moses lifted up in the wilderness, he finally put away the power of sin from himself, and became the priest who can lead us in ultimate victory over the same power.

(Rom 8:3; Phi 2:7; Heb 5:7-8; 9:26; John 3:14; Num 21:9.)

Yet though the Lord had our nature, to brandish when speaking of him the words "defiled", "cursed", or "condemned", is both unseemly and beyond the warrant of Scripture. No defiled word or deed ever escaped him, and it were far better to concentrate on his behaviour ("who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth"), in spite of the limitations which he shared with us all. And though it is true that fleshly nature is unfitted for immortality or for eternal fellowship with God, it is foolish to speak as though the beloved Son was estranged from his Father by his nature. All the evidence of his life, his prayers, his Father's commendation (at baptism, transfiguration and close to the time of the cross) is that he and his Father shared the closest communion, save for the briefest necessary moment on the cross itself. During his mortal life the Son was loved and cherished by his Father. No doubt it would have been otherwise had he turned aside to fulfil the lusts of the flesh, but this he never did. And as we trust through his work that we, now in this time, may be regarded as sons of the Father despite the weakness and proneness to sin which still exists in our members, we should rejoice in the Father's help and companionship for the Son in his struggle against sin, rather than invent an estrangement which corresponds to nothing real in the Gospel record of the relationship between the Father and his beloved Son.

The only association of the idea of a curse with Christ is in connection with the curse of the Law where Christ is spoken of as having "become a curse for us", a reference, neither to his nature nor to any failure to keep "all things which are written in the book of the law to do them", but to the manner of the death by which he glorified God.

If the word "condemnation" is used at all in relation to our Lord, we must carefully guard against the misunderstandings which this term could introduce. Like us, our Lord Jesus was subject to infirmity and mortality, as his mission required. But no condemnation which would imply guilt or God's displeasure can be affirmed of the beloved Son of the Father. Jesus was unique among men in that his constant submission to the will of God ensured unbroken fellowship with his Father.

(1Pe 2:22; Mat 3:17; 11:27; 17:5; John 3:35; 11:41,42; 12:28; Gal 3: 10-14.)

This, of course, brings us to the point where we must consider the Father's part in the work of His Son. Jesus was like us in his fleshly nature: and this he successfully overcame, so that at his death "the prince of this world" could come and find nothing in him. All this had been kept at bay while he lived, and all the weakness of flesh was now to be destroyed in his death. Yet, as no man had the right to make himself a priest, so has no man the right to make himself a saviour. Only God could appoint the man and the time. No man left to himself can achieve spotless righteousness. So, of necessity, when righteousness was achieved, it had to be by one given unfettered access to God, who chose of his own free will to accept it ("Not my will, but thine, be done"). Sonship of the Father conveyed an insight, an intimacy with his God, an unequalled knowledge of what was in man, fitting him eminently to be the Saviour -- if only he would choose to be so. It conveyed peculiar temptations, too, such as other men do not know (for which of us would make himself a laughing stock by trying to turn stones into bread? or commit suicide by throwing himself unsupported from great heights? or think of snapping his fingers to make the world his kingdom? Yet all these things were possible to him, and with hard travail, and by constant trust in his Father, were rejected). Sonship of God did not make him sinless, but it did make sinlessness possible. And when all was done, it was plain to all concerned that the work was a work of God, without whom sinlessness could not have been achieved. In asking His righteous Son to die, the Father showed how the power of sin could be brought to an end. In granting him life when he had died, He showed that the victory was won indeed, and in appointing him a mediator for his brethren He made accessible to us, through him, all the blessings which he was sent to bring.

(John 14:30; Heb 5:4-5; Luke 22:42; 4:1-13.)


We have purposely kept words like sacrifice, atonement, and priest to a minimum. This is not because they are either unimportant or irrelevant, but because many of our difficulties arise from a failure to remember that the fundamental thing in the purpose of God was always intended to be the coming, life, death, resurrection, ascension, and return of the Lord Jesus Christ. All the types and shadows pointed to him, and were there because of that. He was what he was, and did what he did, because this was the purpose of God in him, and not because of what the types said. They did nothing to take away sin; it was impossible that they ever could. They helped men to remember that sin was real ("a remembrance made every year") and they pointed to the time when it really would be conquered. So in the providence of God they were made available to do the best that pictures and symbols can do to point to the real thing.

And so we see the Lord Jesus Christ risen from the dead and seated at the right hand of God. He has overcome for himself the power of sin and has been granted endless life as the proper outcome. He has taught us the reality and the power of sin, and bids us surrender in baptism all our confidence in ourselves. This baptism joins us with the message of his cross, and teaches us that our old man must be crucified with him with its affections and lusts, and then buried with him. It joins us also with the hope of his new life, giving us an introduction into the presence of the Father through him, and telling us that, just as the Father forgives our past sins as a whole, when we surrender in baptism, so He is active through His Son in hearing our prayers for forgiveness, and for spiritual help now. And that Son is the more able to help from the knowledge of temptation and its power, which he faced and defeated in his life and finally in his death. Our acceptance of the cross is the acceptance of the righteousness of God -- and also of His grace and love; it is the acceptance of the helplessness of our nature -- and also of the way of help through Christ; it is the thankful receiving of forgiveness and reconciliation -- and also the promise that sin may be forgiven yet, and the man of God progressively strengthened unto all good works.

It is, moreover, the joining together in one body by the cross of diverse people, of many races and different temperaments, called upon to make real in their life of fellowship the love of Christ, who, having loved his own which were in the world, loved them to the end. It is a topic not for strife but for endless contemplation in growing wonder. Its very humiliation, which the Lord endured first and which Paul commends to us ("Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus"), makes it imperative that our new calling be fulfilled in love and forbearance one of another. And if we should find it needful to debate and to instruct, then, on pain of our own rejection before God, it must be in a spirit which would never willingly, through any folly, or arrogance of ours, endanger the salvation of him, of anyone, for whom Christ died.


July, 1971

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