“Ques. 12. Since, then, by the righteous judgment of God, we deserve temporal and eternal punishment, is there no way by which we may escape that punishment, and be again received into favor?
“A. God will have his justice satisfied: and therefore we must make full satisfaction, either by ourselves, or by another.
“Ques. 12. Can we ourselves then make this satisfaction?
“A. By no means; but on the contrary we daily increase our debt.
“Ques. 14. Can there be found anywhere, one, who is a mere creature, able to satisfy for us?
“A. None; for, first, God will not punish any other creature for the sin which man hath committed; and further, no mere creature can sustain the burden of God’s eternal wrath against sin, so as to deliver others from it.
“Ques. 15. What sort of mediator and deliverer then must we seek for?
“A. For one who is very man, and perfectly righteous; and yet. more powerful than all creatures; one who is also very God.”
Lord’s Day 5, Heid. Catechism.
Reconciliation is a beautiful word. That is especially true for us at this moment, for it answers the cry of the anxious soul that seeks peace with his God.
Reconciliation is often defined as “the renewal of friendship after a disagreement or enmity.” In our present use of the word, it implies that there was once an intimate bond of friendship and fellowship between God and us. Moreover, we are now deeply aware of the fact that we have disrupted this bond of friendship, so that there exists a barrier of enmity between God and us. The bond of friendship which God established between Himself and our first parents in paradise has been disrupted by Adam’s fall, and is disrupted even now by our transgressions. We long for the assurance in our own hearts that all is well between God and us. We need that assurance renewed, not once, but repeatedly, as long as we live.
Notice how that word reconciliation stands out in the first question of this Lord’s Day. “Since by the righteous judgment of God, we deserve temporal and eternal punishment. . . .” Soon after the Catechism was composed the Arminians raised the objection that this question is too coldly doctrinal, too severe. The guilty sinner .who has restlessly tossed’ about on his bed at night, hiding his face in his tearstained pillow, must wonder how anyone can call this question cold and severe. This is our confession, born out of the work of grace in our hearts, arising from our condemning conscience, as we stand before the tribunal of a righteous God. We confess that we deserve God’s righteous judgment upon us, even unto everlasting torment of hell, because of our sins. We ask: “Is there no way out?” We do this, not like a condemned criminal in his death cell, who ponders how he may frustrate the cause of justice, but rather like the publican who pleads, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” We need to escape punishment, because we long for God’s favor, which means more to us than life itself. With the Psalmist we cry, “As the hart pants after water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God.” It is the anxious plea of those who were pricked in their hearts on the day of Pentecost, who could not wait for Peter to finish his sermon, but interrupted him with their, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” It is the determination of the prodigal son who says, “I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and against thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.” In essence, it is the need for reconciliation.
Satisfaction is the key word in this Lord’s Day. It is the only possible answer to the sinner’s plea; the only way of reconciliation. Literally satisfaction means “to make full.” A settlement must be made; a debt must be paid. We have raised the question, How can I be restored into favor with my God? The answer is given, “God will have his justice satisfied.” We must not regard this, “God will have . . .,” as an arbitrary whim of the Most High, as if He could just as well have ignored the offence against His justice. We have already confessed in Lord’s Day 4, that “sin which is committed against the most high majesty of God, (must) be punished with extreme, that is, with everlasting punishment of body and soul.” Sin is transgression of God’s Law. After all, God is God. He has the right to demand of us that we love Him with our whole being. Not to do so offends God, dishonors His Name, defies His authority. Failing to fulfill our obligation we become indebted to God. Debt is intolerable, inexorably exact. We realize that even when we are burdened with a money debt to our fellow man. We pay, and pay, and pay some more; month after month, possibly year after year, until finally the debt has been brought down to the last penny. Only then can be written across ours account: Paid in full. Our debt to God is tie debt of sin. Ours is not the debt of a single sin, maybe some grievous transgression; nor is it the debt of hundreds of sins, nor mere thousands, but rather millions upon millions, which we increase and multiply as often as the clock ticks off its seconds. Our debt is that mountain of guilt that stands between us and God, cuts off our prayers, makes us utterly miserable, so the “the sorrows of death compassed me, and the pangs of hell gat hold upon me, I found trouble and sorrow.” (Psalm 116:3). We cry out, “If Thou, Lord, shouldst mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?” (Psalm 130:3) Scripture tells us, confirmed by our own experience, God’s justice must be fully satisfied. The debt must be paid. Atonement must be made.
Here we have another significant word. Atonement (notice the at-one-ment) means literally, ‘to be at one with,’ or, ‘to be set at one.’ The sin barrier between God and us must be removed. God need not be reconciled with us (He never changes). But we need to be reconciled with Him. The debt of sin must be paid; peace and fellowship must be restored.
There is only one way in which our debt can ever be paid, the punishment commensurate with our sin debt must be borne. The soul that sins must die. Sin against the most high majesty of God must be punished with everlasting torment of hell. No, even those who suffer the anguish of hell never atone for a single sin. In order to bear the wrath of God against sin, and to bear it away, we must surrender ourselves willingly under the wrath of God, in love, in willing, obedient suffering. Every sinful, rebellious “NO” must be replaced with a loving, submissive, “YES, LORD.” God is just in all His ways and works. Only perfect obedience of love in atonement for every sin which we have committed can satisfy God’s just demand. Only the assurance that our debt has been paid, our sins have been blotted out, can create in us the peace of forgiveness. That we know and confess.
Our Catechism, almost surreptitiously, introduces a new thought here. It speaks of full satisfaction, either by ourselves or by another. By another meanssubstitution. Substitution is a marvelous word, for in this context, as we shall see, the word was born in the eternal bosom of God, an integral part of God’s eternal plan and purpose in Christ Jesus.
Of course, if that were possible, we ourselves should make satisfaction for our sins. If we have a money debt, it is our obligation to pay that debt. No one else can be held responsible for any debt incurred by us. Before the tribunal of God, I, and I only, am accountable for the guilt of my sins. Before my consciousness, I deserve eternal death.
Yet I cannot make the necessary satisfaction. I am overcome by the power of sin and death; desperately, hopelessly lost in sin. I may bathe myself under a shower until my skin tingles; I may wash my hands until they sting, but the blot upon my soul remains unchanged. All my tears and confessions of sorrow cannot atone for a single sin, no matter how small that sin may appear to be. All my love and devotion, all my works wrought by the new man in Christ can never undo the sins that cleave to me. Even if I could attain to perfection, so that from this hour until I die, no sinful desire, thought, word, or deed ever blotted my soul, I still would be an unprofitable servant who did no more than his duty. Yet, O wretched man, I only increase my debt every day, every hour, every second of my existence.
Does this suggestion of a full satisfaction by anotherimply that I may possibly be able to summon a substitute to my aid? My sinful pride would like to seek outside aid to my rescue. An angel possibly? Not as if I have anything to say about the angels, but angels are sinless. They have no debt to pay to God. Could one of them assume my debt and bear it away? Or some animal? Scripture speaks of the sacrifices that were brought in the old dispensation accompanyh3 confessions of sin and pleas for forgiveness. Or some other man? Moses expressed the desire to be blotted out of the book of life, if thereby God’s honor could be maintained among the heathen and His covenant realized in His people. Paul, in that stirring introduction of Romans 9, declares that he could wish to be accursed from Christ for his brethren according to the flesh, if that could bring their salvation. But the very desire implies the hopelessness of one man’s atoning for the sins of another.
How can God ever punish another creature for the sins that you and I commit? That would be contrary to God’s justice. How can a mere creature, no matter who or what it may be, bring the sacrifice of perfect obedience for our sins? All the blood that spurted from the slain beasts that were sacrificed in the temple day after day, could not atone for sin in any way. How can a mere creature ever merit anything with God? Much less, how can a mere creature attain for us that which he does not possess, eternal life in covenant fellowship with the living God?
What can wash away my sins? As far as I or any other creature is concerned, NOTHING! What can make me whole again? NOTHING, if that depends in any way on me or on any other creature.
Here we see the breaking of the dawn into the dark night of our sin and misery. That which is eternally impossible with man is possible with God. God in His eternal, sovereign power, wisdom, and grace, has prepared Himself as our Substitute in Christ Jesus. A Man, a righteous Man, Who is also very God.
Adam as our representative head in paradise was a figure of the last Adam Who was to come as flesh of our flesh, in order to stand in our place as our representative Head and bear the wrath of God against our sins.
When God gave His promise, “I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed,” God already declared His promise of the birth of One Who had to be without guilt, born of a virgin.
When God gave the sacrifices in the old dispensation, He was repeating His promise of His own Son, Immanuel, Who could stand under the consuming fire of God’s wrath and still not be consumed. God had to be in Christ, reconciling us unto Himself, never to count our transgressions against us.
What can wash away my sins? Nothing, but the blood of Jesus. What can make me whole again? Nothing, but the blood of God. (Acts 20:28).
Reconciliation! God brings His rebellious, unfaithful, wandering friend servant back to Himself by satisfaction, atonement, through His own wonderful, glorious Mediator, Jesus Christ. Hallelujah!