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"The Lord hath prepared a sacrifice." (Zephaniah 1:7)

Objections to the doctrine met – The fact traced in the typical evidences of it – In the fulfillment of Christ’s prophecies concerning it – Some of the hallowed results of the atonement.

“The Lord hath prepared a sacrifice.” Yes, we must not be content to consider Christ as One who merely came to teach and set an example as many would have us believe; but that He came as the One, and only One, prepared by God the Father to die a sacrifice for sin. Imagine the wretchedness of the theory that Christ came as an example of excellence and virtue. It would amount to this: God sent a good Man into this world, permitting Him to suffer an ignominious death, as an example worthy of imitation. Would such a movement be worthy of the great God? Nay, would it be compatible with His honor and justice? Certainly not. The theory is an insult to the Most High and proceeds from the carnal reason of those who are determined to reject Christ and being ignorant of God’s righteousness, go about to establish a righteousness of their own.

But before we go into the fact of the atonement, it may be well for us to meet some of the objections that these carnal reasoners take to this glorious doctrine. They say –

1. If Christ came to be a sacrifice for sin, why did He not openly declare His mission? – We reply, It is the glory of God to conceal a thing; and Christ Himself when on earth declared to His disciples, “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth: for He shall not speak of Himself; but whatsoever He shall hear, that shall He speak: and He will show you things to come.” And then, had Christ told the Jews in open language who and what He was, they, in the unbelief of their hearts, would have stoned Him to death; so that, humanly speaking, He would have died a Stephen’s death instead of a Savior’s death, and thereby not fulfilled the prophecy, “The Lord hath prepared a sacrifice.” Again, they say -

2. But it does not agree with the moral perfections of God to punish sin in a Surety: it cannot therefore be just to make an innocent Person suffer and the offender be spared. – How true is the emphatic declaration of God Himself: “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isa. 55:8,9) That God did order the punishment of sin in a Surety is abundantly evident by His own Word; and who dares to say that He would order anything that infringed upon the perfections of His attributes? Deny this fact, and you must at once blot out of your Bibles that precious word “mercy.” But, far from the atonement of Christ not agreeing with the moral perfections of God, it is just the contrary: for, by the sufferings of Jesus Christ upon the cross, the execution of the law was completed in such a way that no earthly creature could complete it; and, therefore, when the law is honored and its demands carried out, both law and Lawgiver are satisfied – the former becoming magnified, and the latter honored by the discharge. But, once more, they say –

3. None less than a Divine Person could bear away sin; yet a Divine Person cannot atone for sin, because Deity cannot die. – This objection entirely overlooks the fact – “a body hath He prepared;” and such passages as this – “By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the Body of Jesus Christ once for all.” It was the human nature of Christ that died. Truly, Deity cannot die; and, as it is declared that “Jesus ever liveth,” the objection really establishes His Deity, rather than militates against His atonement. It is the old error of the confusion of substance, and not discerning that Christ was the God-man.

But having met some of the objections which carnal reasoners raise to this precious doctrine, let us now go to the proof we have of THE FACT OF THE ATONEMENT – “The Lord hath prepared a sacrifice” – and let us take –

I. The Typical Evidences Of It. – For example -

1. The offering of Cain and Abel. – “Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the lord. And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock. And the Lord had respect unto Abel and to his offering: but unto Cain and to his offering He had not respect.” Now, why was this? We reply, because Abel saw the nature and character of sin, and the need of a sacrifice which should shadow forth the “Lamb slain from the foundation of the world;” therefore he presented of the firstlings of the flock. Cain saw no such necessity, which was evidenced in his afterwards slaying his brother. His offering was rejected, and himself cast forth as a vagabond. In Abel’s offering, then, we have one of the earliest pointings to the atonement. But, again –

2. The offering up of Isaac. – Jehovah spoke to good old Abraham, saying, “Take now thy son thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of. And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass and took two of his young men with him and Isaac his son and clave the wood for the burnt offering and rose up and went unto the place of which God had told him.” What a touching scene! The aged patriarch, the faithful Abraham, wending his way up the mount of Moriah. What must his feelings have been? And yet his faith overcame his feelings. When arrived at the foot of the mount, he bid the young men remain while he and the lad went up yonder. “And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it upon Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife; and they went both of them together.” Note the pathetic appeal of poor Isaac in it: and Abraham’s answer was the typical evidence of the atonement of Christ: “And Isaac spake unto Abraham his father, and said, My father: and he said, Here am I, my son. And he said, Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering? And Abraham said, My son, God will provide Himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together.” And so it was; the angel of the covenant stayed the hand of Abraham ere he plunged the knife into the breast of his devoted son. “And Abraham lifted up hid eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son.” Now, objectors may say all this was but to put Abraham’s faith to the test; but methinks he has but a shallow insight into the mind of the Spirit of God who fails to discover here an early typical evidence of the atonement of Christ, the “Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.”

3. The brazen serpent in the wilderness. – “And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a fiery serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived” (Num. 21:9); and that this serpent of brass thus lifted up pointed to the atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ there can be no doubt, for He Himself declares that, “as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up” (John 3:14). Then, again –

4. The atonement was foreordained in “the scapegoat” – Jehovah’s command runs thus: “And when Aaron hath made an end of reconciling the holy place, and the tabernacle of the congregation, and the altar, he shall bring the live goat: and Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat, and shall send him away by the hand of a fit man in to the wilderness” (Lev. 16:20,21). Thus did Jehovah order to be laid on the type the sins of Israel, representing that upon the Person of Jesus should all the sins of His spiritual Israel be laid; as Isaiah afterwards declared, “The Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all;” or, as it might be rendered, “The Lord hath made to meet on Him the iniquity of us all.” And then –

5. It was typified in the person of the high priest under the law, who entered into the holy of holies once a year to make atonement for sin. – This was the means appointed by Jehovah to remit the sins of the Jews as a nation; “for every high priest taken from among men is ordained for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins;” but, when Christ was offered, learning “obedience by the things which He suffered; being made perfect, He became the Author of salvation unto all them that obey Him;” and, having ascended up on high, He is “an High Priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.” Again –

6. In the paschal lamb we have the atonement set forth. – It was killed before Israel was delivered; so it was necessary that Christ should suffer ere His people could be redeemed. It was to be roast with fire, to note the sharp and dreadful pains which Jesus should suffer. It was eaten with bitter herbs, to teach us that, as followers of Him, we too must be partakers with Him of His sufferings.

And all this explains the Apostle Paul’s language, “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us.”

Thus in Abel’s offering: in Abraham’s declaration that “God would provide Himself a lamb;” in the brazen serpent lifted up in the wilderness; in the scapegoat upon whose head the iniquities of the people should be placed; in the person of the high priest taken from among men; in the paschal lamb, and in other things that might be mentioned, we have typical evidences ordained by God of the fact which Zephaniah declares, “The Lord hath prepared a sacrifice.” Let us pass on now to notice –

II. The Fulfillment Of His Prophecy. –

“The types and the shadows are fled,
With all that predictions foretold;
Since Jesus on Calvary bled,
His sheep shall return to the fold.”

“Father, the hour is come!” are His own significant words – words which at once declare His Godhead; the hour when the Son of Man was to be offered up a sacrifice for the sins of His people. And what an hour it was! Behold Him surrounded by an assembled rabble. How meek and passive did He appear in their midst, as “He was led as a sheep to the slaughter”! Think of Him, our dear, precious Redeemer, outstretched upon the cursed tree; lifted up between earth and heaven – the innocent Victim. Listen to His momentous words at that solemn hour: “Then said Jesus [concerning His enemies], Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” Then said Jesus to His mother, at the foot of the cross, “Woman, behold thy son. Then saith He to His disciple, Behold thy mother.” Then said Jesus to the repentant thief, “Verily I say unto thee, To-day shalt thou be with Me in paradise.” Then said Jesus to His Father above, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? That is to say, My God, My God, why hast Thou forgotten Me?” Then said Jesus to His persecutors, “I thirst.” Then said Jesus to His blood bought elect, “It is finished!” “And when He had cried with a loud voice, He said, Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit: and having said thus, He gave up the ghost.” And yet impious men will dare to say that it was no fact, but only an interesting tale. Note Scripture evidence as to its reality. The Apostle Paul declares, “He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” The Evangelist Mark declares, “And the Scripture was fulfilled which saith, And He was numbered with the transgressors.” And truly was it a fulfillment of the words of the inspired Isaiah, “He shall see of the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied;” and of the inspired Zechariah, “Awake, O sword, against My Shepherd, and against the Man that is my Fellow, saith the Lord of hosts: smite the Shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered;” and above all, a fulfillment of His own precious declaration, “The Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many.” “I lay down My life for the sheep;” and when surrounded by His disciples, at the Last Supper, note His remarkable language: “He took bread, and brake it, saying, This is My body which is given for you;” and, taking the cup, and blessing it, He said, “Drink ye all of it; for this is My blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.”

In the face of such abundant testimony, bold and arrogant indeed must be that man who dares to deny the authenticity of the atonement of the Lord Jesus.

III. WHAT HAS THE ATONEMENT ACCOMPLISHED? – Or we might rather ask, What has it not accomplished for the poor sinner? For from it flow all the blessings of the new covenant of grace.

But to condense the subject, we name six hallowed results – 1, Reconciliation; 2, Restoration; 3, Remission; 4, Redemption; 5, Regeneration; 6, Rejoicing.

1. Reconciliation. – No sinner can approach a holy God with acceptance but through the blood of the atonement; for it is this which reconciles the justice and mercy of God. “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.” “But now in Christ Jesus, ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.” “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the Just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God.”
It is clear, then, from the Scriptures, that that reconciliation to God is effected alone “by the death of His Son;” so –

“Sin-burdened soul, dry up your tears; fear not;
Look up, and triumph in atoning blood.”

2. Restoration. – Here let us quote dear Dr. Hawker’s words: “When Adam sinned he robbed God of His glory, and robbed himself and all his posterity of God’s image and with it all happiness; and Jesus has restored all and done it never to be lost anymore. By His finished work of salvation He hath restored to God His glory and by His obedience and death, as our Surety, He has restored to man his happiness. The favor of God we lost by sin; Jesus hath restored it by justifying us in His righteousness. The image of God we lost by rebellion; Jesus hath restored to us that image in sanctifying us by His holiness; so that every way and in all things, Jesus hath made up the breach and is truly the Almighty Restorer.”

3. Remission. – The testimony of John the Baptist pointed to this fact, as it is written, “The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which TAKETH AWAY the sin of the world.” And the Apostle Paul, speaking of the same precious One, adds, “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.” Oh, if this should meet the eye of one whose past sins still weigh heavy upon him, let him think over and pray over this precious passage, “the remission of sins that are past.” – All laid upon Jesus, and clean gone for ever? Then, again, the atonement issues in –

4. Redemption, which is over and over again declared in the sacred Scriptures to be “by the blood of Christ.” “Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by His own blood, He entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.” “Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; but with the precious blood of Christ, as a Lamb without blemish and without spot.” And this glorious, precious, soul-animating fact, will constitute the theme of the new song in the heavenly Jerusalem: “And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book and to open the seals thereof: for Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by Thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation.”

“Millions of souls, once guilty and defiled,
Shall swell the chorus, ‘Worthy is the Lamb
Once slain in sacrifice, to ransom us;’
And, while His matchless glories, all unveiled,
Exceed what eye hath seen or ear hath heard,
They gaze upon His vesture dipped in blood,
And own their bliss was purchased by His blood.”

5. Regeneration. – The new birth cannot be separated from the atonement, for “the blood is the life.” No atonement, and there can be no such a thing as spiritual life; and although, probably, it may be more correct to say such life is the result of the resurrection, as the Apostle Paul saith, “Like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also walk in newness of life,” still, such life is called “the washing of regeneration,” which the Holy Ghost “shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior; that being justified by His grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” So that we gather that the precious blood of the atonement, applied by the power of the Holy Ghost, is the life – a life which nothing can destroy: “Thou hast redeemed us to God by Thy blood.” And then, lastly, the personal realization of the atonement will bring about -

6. Rejoicing. – “Sing, O ye heavens; for the Lord hath done it: shout, ye lower parts of the earth: break forth into singing, ye mountains, O forest, and every tree therein.” Why, O thou inspired prophet, all this rejoicing? Listen to his reply: “For the Lord hath redeemed Jacob, and glorified Himself in Israel;” so that, while Israel rejoices to think of the great redemption work accomplished by Jesus, Jesus is Himself glorified in its accomplishment, as well as glorified in the reception and realization of it by His blood-bought children. This it is that brings comfort of mind, peace of soul, and rejoicing of spirit, in the midst of all the cares and pressing anxieties of the way. Let the miserable opposers to the glorious doctrine of the atonement find any substitute that will bring a man into such peace. They cannot; they never propose any; and, if they did, it would be worthless. But let a man lay bold of the atonement “as an anchor of the soul,” and he gives about his necessary duties with a feeling sense of security and happiness: “God, my Father, hath accepted me; Jesus, my Savior, hath redeemed me; God the Holy Ghost hath revealed all this to me. I will eat my bread with joy; I will drink of this cup of my salvation with a cheerful heart. I will sing of that dear One ‘who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began.’” We repeat, oh, what peace such a knowledge gives! Take the man who, from early dawn till late at night is in the whirl of commercial life. He wishes he had less to do, and more time to read his Bible; but there he is, in the position which the providence of God seems to have assigned him. What is his solace, as he doubles together letters and accounts? Is it not the casting the eye upwards, and catching a faith’s view of a risen Lord, who, by His doing and dying, has completed salvation for him? So that his comfortable assurance is, “Well, Christ has done all for me. He knows me in my lot in life; He sees me toiling away, and marks my struggling to honor Him in the midst of all;” and he says “Dear Jesus, Thou hast redeemed me! I am Thine and Thou art mine!”

“I’ll visit Calvary’s hill,
To view the blood-stained tree,
And bid my fears be still,
Since Jesus died for me:
The triumphs of His cross will prove
My glory in the realms above.”

May it be ours, dear reader, not to be carried away by useless niceties of carnal reasoning, but to seek the guidance and teaching of the Holy Spirit, that we may become rooted and grounded in the fundamental and material points of God’s glorious and complete scheme of salvation; and let us ever suspect and avoid that teaching which undervalues the atonement of Christ. Depend upon it, wrong here, we are wrong everywhere. It is the fundamental verity of the Bible. Pray the Lord the Spirit to give you a deeper insight into it, that you may have the joy and peace in believing that the reception and personal appropriation of the atonement can alone give.