The complete atonement which Jesus Christ has made for our sins, by the sacrifice of himself, is the life of the evangelical system, and that which endears it so much to the hearts of them that believe. Here we see pardon procured, and the sinner saved, while sin is condemned and punished;--the most awful display of justice and holiness, in conjunction with the freest exercise of mercy; rebels delivered from deserved punishment, and advanced to a state of dignity and honor; and at the same time, the rights of that divine government against which they had rebelled, inviolably preserved and maintained. Through what Jesus Christ has done and suffered for us, we behold the righteous law of God magnified, in justifying those who had violated its precepts, and brought themselves under its curse. In the death of the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world, we perceive at once, the Almighty's eternal abhorrence of that which is evil, and his infinite love to his offending creatures.
We see how precious this subject was to the apostle Paul; "What things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss, for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung that I may win Christ, and be found in him, not having mine own righteousness which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith." (Phil. 3:7-9) He was struck with a kind of horror at the thought of making any thing the ground of his joy or triumph, but the complete work of Jesus, which he finished on the cross: "God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ." (Gal. 6:14) While others consider Christianity only as an improvement of natural religion, containing a more refined system of morality, he represents it as the religion suitable for sinners, revealing a method of salvation for the guilty, the helpless, and the miserable. "This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners." (1 Tim. 1:15) His fellow-laborers heartily concurred with him in this: for, says he, "We preach Christ crucified." (1 Cor. 1:23)
To a condemned malefactor, a pardon sent from his offended sovereign must be precious. So, nothing can be matter of greater comfort in this world than to know that we have redemption through the blood of Jesus, the forgiveness of our sins, according to the riches of his grace. As soon may light and heat be separated from the beams of the sun, as peace and consolation from the voice of pardon. Hence when our Lord sojourned on earth, the relief which he administered to the distressed was generally comprehended in these words, "Son, daughter, be of good cheer; thy sins are forgiven thee." (Matt. 9:2)
The blood of our Divine Saviour is emphatically called precious blood. The shedding of his blood was the finishing act of his obedience to the law, as our surety, in our room and stead. It procures our pardon, our peace with God, and our everlasting salvation. "Being justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him." (Rom. 5:9)
What he did and suffered was not on his own account, but on account of those whom he came to save. To consider him simply as an individual, is highly injurious to his character, as Mediator. The ideas of substitution and imputation are necessarily included in that character; the imputation of our sins to him, and of his righteousness to us. Without admitting these considerations, the sufferings which Christ underwent, had they been greater than they were, could avail us nothing. But the divine word assures us, that "as by the offence of one, judgment came upon all men to condemnation, so by the obedience of one (Jesus Christ) many are made righteous." (Rom. 5:18) We are made the righteousness of God in him, (2 Cor. 5:21) as he wrought out that righteousness by which we are justified, not only in our nature, but in our name, considered as our Head and Representative. Without the idea of substitution, there is no more ground for reliance on the obedience of Christ, than for reliance on the obedience of an angel.
This truth, being of the greatest importance to our relief and comfort, is set forth in the clearest light by the sacred writers. They assure us, that in our Redeemer, personally considered, there was no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth; (1 Pet. 2:22) he was holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners. (Heb. 7:26) "Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him; he was smitten of God and afflicted;" (Isa. 53:10,4) but on what account? "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and with his stripes we are healed." (Isa. 53:6,5) Hence his obedience unto death is the only ground of our hope and joy. "We joy in God through Jesus Christ our Lord, by whom we have now received the atonement." (Rom. 5:11) We look to Calvary, and view the suffering Saviour, as bearing our sins, in his own body on the tree, and putting them away by the sacrifice of Himself. Believing the salutary truth, an acquittal from guilt and condemnation is announced to our consciences, and we are filled with the peace of God.
We see that, through what Jesus Christ has done and suffered, as our substitute, that holy law which we have broken is highly honored; and that awful justice which we have provoked is completely satisfied. His obedience in life, his obedience unto death, and his obedience in death, is sometimes in Scripture, by an usual figure, called his blood, his precious blood, and the blood of God; at other times it is expressed by the term righteousness; the righteousness of God, which is unto all and upon all them that believe. It is evident that the different terms mean one and the same thing, the complete work of the great Surety on our account, and in our stead.
That obedience, which Jesus thus performed, is every way as excellent as eternal wisdom itself could devise, and as perfect as divine rectitude could require. The Father declares himself well pleased with it. All the divine attributes are glorified by it, while it fully answers every saving purpose to those that believe, and ensures the richest blessings unto them, both in this world, and that which to come. On all which accounts it is unspeakably precious. The evangelical prophet, personating the whole church, triumphs in it in the following manner: "I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God: for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with jewels. (Isa. 61:10)