Chapter 5: The Actual Purpose of the Cross
There are good reasons in the Divine mind for all those expressions of his holy and inscrutable sovereignty which are made in his works of creation, providence, and redemption. Nothing is gained, but everything is in danger of being lost by quarreling with the great facts which take place under the government of the "God only wise." What is difficult to us, is plain to him; what to us is dark, to him is enveloped with light—pure, unmingled light. "God is light, and in him is no darkness at all." Fallen men are made to differ from fallen angels, without any apparent reason; one man is made to differ from another, when no human intellect is able to assign the reason why one is taken and another is left. There is a dismal equality in the moral character of men. They are all born under the same broken covenant, inherit the same corrupt nature, and are alike exposed to the wrath and curse of God, both in this life and that which is to come. Nor do any of them so differ in the outward acts and expressions of their wickedness, but that the best of them deserves to perish, and if any are saved, they must attribute his salvation to the unspeakable riches and sovereignty of infinite grace.
The Divine purposes are all accomplished. If there were no other method of learning what they are, we may read a part of them at least in the history of the past. Nor have we any more reason to quarrel with them than we have with the facts recorded on the pages of history. When that last day shall come, on which the entire history of our race, as it respects the present world, shall be completed and recited, it will be but the rehearsal of the executed purposes of God. It will then be seen that all men are not saved. "When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory—and before him shall be gathered all nations and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats—and he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world—while to them on his left hand he shall say, Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.—And these shall go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into life eternal." In our Lord’s exposition of the parable of the tares, he says, "As, therefore, the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so shall it be in the end of the world. The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and those who do iniquity; and shall cast them into the furnace of fire—there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth." Nothing, therefore, is more clear from the Scriptures, than that it is not the actual purpose of the cross to save all mankind.
On the other hand, the fact is not questioned, that a part of mankind are saved. This fact, also, is but the counterpart of the Divine purpose; it is, it was, it ever has been, the Divine purpose to save them. Nor can there be any question as to the way in which this purpose is carried into effect. "There is no other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved," but the name of Christ. "Other foundation can no man lay, than what is laid." The method of salvation is the cross. Other objects the cross secures; but its great object is the redemption of a part of mankind—"a peculiar people that they should show forth the praises of Him who has called them out of darkness into his marvelous light."
It deserves consideration whether sufficient prominence is given in our own thoughts, and in our relative views of the truth of God, to this great purpose of his redeeming mercy. I confess, when I contemplate the cross, and would sincerely commend its manifold and wondrous attractions, this purpose of redeeming mercy seems to me to be the great and master purpose of the Divine mind. It is the purpose which has the greatest extent and comprehensiveness; which reaches from everlasting to everlasting; which is fortified and confirmed by every other purpose; which acquires additional beauty, dignity, and importance, the more it is considered; and which, instead of being revealed with a cautious reserve, courts publicity, and fearlessly stands out as the principal and selected means by which the Infinite One glorifies his great name. To deny or disprove this purpose, would be virtually to deny or disprove the whole gospel.
The great first principle of the gospel is, that it is the actual purpose of God to save a great multitude, which no man can number, by the death of his Son. Take away this purpose, and the gospel has no foundation; God would never have been manifest in the flesh, nor would we ever have heard of his effective propitiation for sin. It was indeed a mighty movement in heaven to show mercy to a part of our guilty and wretched race. God has not told us how many there are; but he has told us that they are numerous enough to give the Seed of the woman the most exulting triumph over his malignant adversary, and to satisfy him for all the humiliation, and shame, and agonies of his incarnation and death. Men may complain that the people comprised in it are not more in number; but God, whose wisdom and goodness are as much above the wisdom and goodness of men as the heavens are above the earth, sees no reason for making it greater, or in any way amending, or altering his original design. The reason why he does not alter it, is that it was formed in unerring wisdom, and that to change it in any way would be unwise.
In tracing this purpose to its origin, we find it in the love of God—the goodness, the love of God, "having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will." It was not for any good qualities in some rather than in others. Manasseh, and Saul, and the Corinthian converts, were sufficiently vile. If God would have waited for this, he would have waited long and in vain. It was not for any foreseen faith and holiness; for these are his gifts, and the very things which the cross secures. All spiritual blessings come to the saved through Christ, according as he has chosen them in him that they should be holy. His love is antecedent to ours. "We love him because he first loved us." "You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that you should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain."
This actual purpose of mercy by the cross lay in the Divine mind, in all its parts and relations, and in all the means by which it is accomplished, before the foundation of the world. It was a covenant arrangement between the three sacred persons of the ever-blessed and adorable Trinity. So far as the cross is concerned, it was a covenant between the Father and the Son. Hence the blood of the cross is spoken of as the "blood of the covenant," and "the blood of the everlasting covenant." There was an agreement between the Father and the Son, as the representative of his people, in which the Father promised, upon condition of the Son’s mediatorial satisfaction and obedience, that he should be rewarded by the sanctification and salvation of his people. This covenant Christ accepted; and having fulfilled the terms of it, became entitled to his reward.
Such is the depraved character of men, that something more was necessary, in order to secure their salvation, than that the legal impediments to the exercise of mercy should be removed, and the offer of salvation be made to them. Such is their disaffection and enmity to the cross, that no love of God in giving his Son to die, no compassion and tenderness of the crucified Son, no offers of salvation through his blood, no promises, no threatenings, no reason, no conscience, can prevail with them to accept the offered salvation. Such is the power and depth of human apostasy, that every avenue is closed against the calls of the Divine mercy, and not one of all the race is found, who, if left to himself, will fall in with the gracious overture. If the cross, therefore, merely throws open the door of mercy—if it is merely accessible to all, and announces to all repentance and remission of sins—Christ has died in vain; and the mercy revealed to save, actually saves none; there has been a waste of atoning blood; the heavens have bowed; the eternal Son has expired, not merely for a doubtful, but a desperate and unsuccessful enterprise.
The covenant of redemption was designed to prevent this evil, and give effect to the great propitiation in the hearts of men, and thus make the actual purpose of salvation inseparable from the cross itself. It is in reference to this purpose that the Savior says, "I lay down my life for the sheep:" "All that the Father gives me shall come to me;" that the apostle speaks of the "church of God purchased by his own blood;" and the prophet declares, "For the transgression of my people was he stricken."
There is sovereignty in the cross. "He has mercy on whom he will have mercy." "Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in your sight!" It is no proof that the counsels of heaven’s mercy are not good, because they are unfathomable by mortals. Of one thing we may be satisfied, from what we know of the Divine goodness, and the all-sufficiency of the atonement, that the purpose of saving mercy is thus definite, not through lack of love in God or merit in the death of his Son; but for reasons which, however unknown to us, no atonement could reach, and no substituted sufferer could answer.
It is a glorious purpose thus to reward the ever-blessed and suffering Son. Yes, it is a glorious and most joyous purpose. Think of it, and let your soul magnify the Lord, and your spirit rejoice in God your Savior! "Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he has poured out his soul unto death—and he was numbered with the transgressors, and bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors." The spoiler would have ruined the whole human race, had it not been for One mightier than he, who shall "see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied." God’s unspeakable gift to man is to be traced up to this glorious purpose.
In speaking of the actual purpose of God to save, and to save through the death of his Son, we are not to overlook the fact that the means by which this purpose is accomplished form a part of the purpose itself. The purpose is not only carried into effect by these means, but the means are essential to the purpose, and form a part of it. God not only purposed to save, but through whom, on what terms, by what instrumentality, under what circumstances, at what time; and every one of these means constitutes a link in the chain, so intimately interwoven with the purpose, that without it there is no purpose to save, and can be none. If men are saved by the cross, they must become acquainted with the truth of the cross, and be taught the method of salvation which it reveals. "How shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard?" There is nothing in the death of Christ to save men who are ignorant of it; because the Divine purpose to save, is to save only through the knowledge of the gospel. The purpose itself is thus a restricted purpose, and limited to Christian lands, and to those in Christian lands who become acquainted with him whom God has sent. The sovereignty of God in the dispensations of his grace, is here exhibited in facts which may not be questioned. There are entire nations whom he has given over to a reprobate mind, and left under the veil of ignorance and error. Men are born in millions during ages of darkness, over which they had no control, and in lands of darkness where their birth and residence are determined by a Providence that is above them. They dwell in the darkness and shadow of death; and because they have not the means of salvation, they cannot have its hopes. They are not guilty of rejecting what God does not offer them—this foul sin of Christian lands does not rest upon them. But they have all sinned and come short of the glory of God, and therefore inherit the wages of sin, without the knowledge of the redeeming Savior. The most loose and indefinite views of the atonement would recoil from the conclusion that there is any purpose of mercy at all towards nations who remain ignorant of the gospel. The actual purpose of God to save, is also a purpose that all those who partake of this salvation must not only become acquainted with the gospel, but at heart believe it. "He that believes and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believes not shall be damned." The death of Christ does, indeed, open the door of hope—but it does not save until it is received and confided in.
This all-sufficient redemption is limited by the terms of it; and be they who they may, all those who do not repent and believe the gospel, have no lot and no part in this matter. The cross was never designed to give eternal life to the impenitent and unbelieving—to men who would not acknowledge their offence and thankfully accept its mercy on the terms on which it is offered. Christ has died, and through his death God can now "be just, and the justifier of him who believes." This is the sum and substance of his atonement—it is not greater than this, and knows no other mercy. There cannot in the nature of the case be an effective propitiation for incorrigible impenitence and unbelief. A man may be a great sinner—he may put off his repentance to the bed of sickness and the agonies of a dying hour; but if at the eleventh hour of human life he truly repents and believes the gospel, he shall find that all his sins are atoned for by the blood of the Lamb. But if his impenitence and unbelief continue until his day of grace and space for repentance are expired; if even the approaching scenes of death and eternity fail to awaken him to a view of his lost condition, and lead him to the Savior; if he dies as he has lived, the enemy of God and his Christ; is there any cover for his offences, any satisfaction for his crimes, any atonement for his final impenitence?
An affirmative answer to this question would present to my mind the most obvious absurdity. Is there any ransom for such a man; any accepted surety for him; or any satisfaction, any equivalent, for his debt to the Divine justice which that surety has rendered? Has the burden of that man’s guilt ever rested upon another, or does it forever rest on his own soul? Was Jesus Christ delivered for his offences, or has he in any way wrought out a deliverance for him from the place of torment? I suggest these thoughts the more freely, because, however familiar they may have been to others, it is not until within a few years they have been presented to my own mind. The proposition is perfectly intelligible, that the death of Christ is such an atonement as justifies the Holy Lawgiver in pardoning every one that believes; and in this truth I see that the atonement is limited by the very terms on which it is proposed, and it is limited by nothing else. It is just as unlimited as it can be; God himself cannot make it more so, because it is not within the compass either of a natural or a moral possibility, to save those who persevere in rejecting it. God’s purpose, God’s justice, and man’s unbelief, all unite in limiting it to true believers.
The proposition is also equally absurd, that the death of Christ is such a satisfaction to Divine justice as justifies the Holy Lawgiver in pardoning the incorrigible, impenitent and unbelieving. What an utter prostration were this of the law and government of God! Then would Christ indeed be the "minister of sin," his death the constituted compensation for persevering in rebellion—and his holy cross, instead of being the great reformer, were the great corrupter of the world.
The former of these propositions is the beautiful view given of the propitiation of the Son of God by the Scriptures; honorable to God, hallowed in its character and influence, and safe for man. The latter is nothing more nor less than the grossest universalism, striking at the root of all experimental religion, confounding all distinctions between right and wrong, and bearing the signature of the "father of lies."
Nor, as the subject presents itself to my own mind, is there any mid-way position between this particular redemption, and the indiscriminate salvation of all mankind. Men are the creatures of habit, and it is a very difficult thing for them to repel the force of early instructions. The phrase "particular redemption" may have been incautiously illustrated by some writers; but does it not express the great truth which Paul utters when he says, "Whom God has set forth to be a propitiation, through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness, that he might be just, amid the justifier of him who believes in Jesus?" To look for any more ample redemption is only flying from the iron weapon and rushing on the bow of steel. It is worthy of remark that when the sacred writers treat of the death of Christ, and even when they advert to it, it is for the most part with the cautious and important restriction which has been specified. "Christ is the end of the law for righteousness"—to whom? Not to all mankind, but to "every one that believes."
It would be as much at war with justice to pardon men in impenitence and unbelief through the atonement, as it were to pardon the penitent without any atonement at all. To "every one who believes," the end of justice is as effectually secured by his death, as it would be by the punishment of the believer himself. But it is only to "every one who believes" that it is thus secured, while it remains for others to fulfill this high end by suffering the penalty in their own persons, because in relation to them it has not been secured by the death of Christ.
The cross no more comes in the place of faith, than faith comes in the place of the cross; or, in other words, the cross does not come in place of penalty, where faith is not exercised. It has its limitations, and they are wise. A comprehensiveness beyond this, and such as precludes the necessity of accepting it, is incompatible with its design and object, and would subvert the end it is intended to promote.
The actual purpose of the cross, therefore, is one which is limited to a part of mankind. God spared not the fallen angels, but stooped to save sinful men; and the same sovereignty which led him to pass by angels, has led him to include in his purpose of mercy only a portion of the fallen race of Adam. This is a purpose altogether irrespective of worth or worthiness in its object, formed before the foundation of the world, and carried into effect notwithstanding their ill-desert; a purpose of mere grace, itself securing the faith which is the revealed condition of salvation, in compliance with the ancient grant to his Son of a seed to serve him for having poured out his soul unto death and been numbered with the transgressors.
Do you murmur at this gracious purpose? If you do so, what are its offensive characteristics? Are you dissatisfied that the God of love should have formed any purpose of mercy at all? Would your own character and condition have been the better if he had never had these thoughts of love? Or does it offend you that you yourself may not be comprised in the number of his chosen people? How do you know this? He has given you being in a world of hope; he has blessed you with the light of Christian lands; he has made you the offer of salvation; he has led you to reflection and prayer; he has sent his Spirit to strive with you; and are these the usual indications of a reprobate mind? Oh, how cruel, to sever yourself from his love, by the lurking and thankless suspicion that he has not predestinated you to the adoption of a child!
But what if it be even as you are willing to suspect? Has he not a right to do what he will with his own? or have you nothing within your own bosom that can induce your sympathy with the joys of those who are the favored objects of his love? "Is your eye evil because he is good?" Or does it offend you that his grace is so free, and that personal merit has no concern in the great transaction by which the sinner is brought home to God? One would think this were the very salvation you need, and that your heart would leap for joy at the thought that you, who have nothing to give, may have it without money and without price; that you, who find it so impossible to make atonement for your own offences, may take refuge in the atonement made by another; and that in despair of the effort to make yourself better before you obtain mercy, you would go to Christ just as you are, that you may become better.
Or does it offend you that there is no pardon for the guilty, without the previous satisfaction to justice which Christ has made on the cross? Is it so that you would sincerely be saved at the expense of justice, and that this wonderful decree of heaven, that substituted the innocent for the guilty, and delivered his own stainless Son to be spit upon, and buffeted, and put to death, that justice might be honored and you might live, has no form nor loveliness in your eyes? Oh, will you not rather open your heart to the glories of this redemption, and then, in all humility and ardor, ascribe "Salvation to our God who sits upon the throne, and unto the Lamb!"
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