The sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ upon the cross of Calvary is an atoning sacrifice. This means that this sacrifice is the sacrifice of reconciliation. And this means that this sacrifice of Calvary effected reconciliation. Reconciliation was wrought by the cross of Calvary; it became a fact upon that cross.
That the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ is this sacrifice of reconciliation is Scriptural. Notice what we read in 2 Corinthians 5:18-20: “And all things are of God, Who hath reconciled us to Himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; to wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.” Here we read that God has reconciled us to Himself, and that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself. Notice, please, that in this text this reconciliation is absolutely one-sided. How thoroughly Scriptural this is! God redeems us, not He and we; God came to us in Christ, we did not go to Him; God came to us in Christ, seeking to save the lost, we did not seek Him. Everything proceeds from God! God reconciled us. We never read in Scripture that God is reconciled, that we do the reconciling. God is never the object of this reconciliation, always its Subject; we are never the subjects of reconciliation, always its objects. God reconciles, never we; we are reconciled, God never. And when we read in verse 20: “be ye reconciled to God,” we do not read: “become ye reconciled.” We were reconciled by God in Christ upon the cross of Calvary. But we do read: “be ye reconciled.” And what the apostle is emphasizing is that, having been reconciled, be ye reconciled, walk now as reconciled, even as we would address an estranged couple, having been reconciled: having been reconciled, walk and conduct yourselves now as reconciled.
What is reconciliation? In this article we must be brief. Reconciliation is, first of all a covenant concept. Reconciliation implies a relationship. We do not reconcile strangers. We reconcile a husband and his wife, parents and children, employers and employees, teachers and pupils, friends. Spiritually, God and His people are reconciled. With respect to this divine reconciliation, the relationship that is presupposed here is the eternal covenant relationship between God and His people. Secondly, reconciliation implies that this relationship has been disturbed, that it cannot function. It has not been broken. One does not speak of reconciliation between a husband and a wife who have been divorced. A divorce terminates, breaks the relationship. Of course, this is true only as far as the husband and wife are concerned. They have terminated their relationship of marriage. As far as God is concerned, their relationship as husband and wife continues. This is the reason why divorced persons may never remarry as long as death does not terminate their marriage. Now reconciliation implies that this relationship, although not broken, has been disturbed. It cannot function. Applied spiritually to the covenant relationship between God and His people, reconciliation implies that this relationship has been disturbed. It cannot function. To be sure, the sinner has broken it. The sinner has turned his back upon God. The sinner has adopted another relationship, a relationship with the devil. He has allied himself with the devil. But, as far as God is concerned, this relationship has not been broken. His relationship with them is an eternal relationship. God continues to be the God of His people. He continues to love them for Jesus’ sake. This is the only possible basis for our salvation. God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself. God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son. However, because of our sin this covenant relationship has been disturbed. It cannot function or operate. The Lord cannot exercise a relationship of love with His people. He cannot exercise friendship with them. He cannot walk with them, have them taste and experience His love and friendship. Thirdly, this reconciliation implies that this relationship of friendship has been restored. Reconciliation is a legal concept. It refers to our status, our legal relation to the law of God. Our legal relation to the law is either that of guilt or of innocence. We are legally either objects of the wrath of God or of His love and favor. To be legally objects of divine wrath means that the law demands of us that we suffer His wrath; to be legally objects of His love implies that we are legally entitled to His love and favor. Now reconciliation implies a change in the legal status, our legal relation to the law of God. Hence, we define reconciliation as that act of God whereby He changes the state of the sinner from one of guilt, in which he is the proper object of God’s wrath, into one of righteousness in which he is the object of God’s love and favor. And now God is the Reconciler. We may never present the matter as if God were the one who is reconciled and as if Christ steps between God and man to reconcile the former. Scripture never speaks of God and the sinner as being mutually reconciled. The cross of Calvary has effected this reconciliation. Calvary lays the basis for the restoring of God’s fellowship with His people. Now the Lord can change the rebellious hearts of His elect children, regenerate them and call them out of darkness of sin into His marvelous light, and once more enter with them into a relationship of friendship. Only, however, now this relationship with them can never again be disturbed. God, in Christ, has merited for His own everlasting life and glory, inasmuch as this relationship has been restored and perfected through and in Immanuel, Jesus, God with us.
What, now is the distinctive feature of the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ? It is in this connection that we call attention to the fact that there have been set forth several theories of the suffering of our Lord Jesus Christ. These theories are the moral theory, the governmental theory, and the mystical theory. Time and space forbid me to discuss these theories in detail. The moral theory advocates that the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ exerts a moral influence upon the sinner. The love of God as revealed in Christ upon the cross would influence the sinner to love God even as God has loved him. The governmental theory emphasizes that the cross of Calvary reveals the righteousness of God. If the sinner concedes this righteousness of God, if he recognizes what God could have done to him had it pleased the Lord to punish him for his sin even as He punished Christ, if he confesses to God his sin and iniquity he will be saved. And the mystical theory, too, denies that the death of Christ is that of a substitute. Upon the cross Christ actually bore our sinful nature and delivered it up unto death. Upon the cross our sinful nature died spiritually. And in the resurrection He arose with a new and glorified human nature, wholly free from sin and death. And if by faith we become mystically one with Christ, Who led to death and buried our sinful nature, and Who arose in glory and righteousness, we, too, are delivered from sin and partake of the glory of His resurrection by virtue of this mystical union. Now it cannot be denied that there is an element of truth in this mystical theory. It is surely true that by grace we become one plant with Christ, so that our old nature is crucified with Him, and with Him we are also raised in newness of life. It is also surely true that we are crucified with Christ and are raised with Him and are set with Him in heavenly places. It is surely true that, upon the cross of Calvary, our sinful nature was condemned and that sin was forever denied its right to reign over us. And this is most emphatically true. But we must always bear in mind and never overlook the fact that the Word of God always presents this power of deliverance from the dominion and defilement of sin as the fruit of the cross, never as the ground of our reconciliation and justification. That our sinful nature was condemned upon the cross, crucified with Christ, is only because of the substitutionary character of His atoning sacrifice. Our Lord Jesus Christ suffered and died for His own, His elect own, as the divinely appointed Substitute, He deprived sin of its right to rule, and merited for us everlasting life and glory. This we may and must never overlook.
We now repeat the question: what is now the distinctive feature of the sacrifice of Calvary? The answer is obvious: the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ is the atoning sacrifice, the sacrifice of reconciliation. The theories of the cross, mentioned in the preceding paragraph, have one thing in common: they deny that the death of Christ is the death of a substitute. They transfer the salvation of a sinner from the cross to the sinner’s sovereignly free will. We are saved, not because of the cross of Christ, but because of our faith. Now it is true, of course, that we are saved by faith. This is surely Scriptural. However, we are saved by faith because of the cross of Christ Jesus, our Lord. It is not so, that the cross of Calvary is efficacious because we believe, but we believe because of the power of the cross. The theories mentioned above simply present salvation as resting in and dependent upon the free will of the sinner. Calvary, however, is the sacrifice of reconciliation. Calvary presents to us thefact of redemption and salvation.
Indeed, how Scriptural this is! Indeed, the Arminian view, advocating the sovereignly free will of the sinner (and may we ever bear in mind that there are really only two possible views of salvation: salvation is either rooted in the sovereign will of our God or it is rooted in the will of the sinner), wants nothing to do with the sacrifice of Calvary as an atoning sacrifice. Fact is, the Arminians discarded the very term atonement, and advocated at the time of the synod of Dordrecht the theory that Christ upon the cross simply merited for the Father the right to renegotiate with the sinner to save him provided that he believe. But how contrary this is to Scripture’s presentation of the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have already called attention to the fact that Scripture speaks of Calvary’s sacrifice as the sacrifice of reconciliation. Then, there are all the sacrifices of the Old Dispensation which were expiatory, a propitiation, or covering for the sins of God’s people. This covering did not simply cover their sin, but covered those sins as a blotter, taking them up into itself and blotting them out before the face of God. And, finally, we may also call attention to the fact that Scripture speaks of the cross as redemption. The word redemption means that the people of God were bought with a price, the price of the blood of the only begotten Son of God. They were purchased out of the power of sin and of the devil and bought with the price of the blood of the Son of God to be the people of God and of His covenant even forevermore. Indeed, well may the church of God throughout the ages sing: “In the cross of Christ we glory.” We are saved, actually redeemed and saved at the cross, through the blood of the Lamb of God and of the Son of God. Then our redemption and salvation became a fact. All that follows through the grace and Spirit of God is the fruit of Calvary. May we as churches never deny this saving, redeeming, and efficacious power of the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Resting in Him, our salvation is forever sure.