Chapter 6: The Cross Accessible
It is one of the plainest truths in the Bible, that there is no man, be he who he may, but has a right to repair to the cross for salvation. Among other reasons, the method of redemption was devised and accomplished on purpose to secure him this right, this Divine warrant, to go as a lost sinner to Jesus Christ for pardon and eternal life. If he does not do so, he sets himself in opposition to this gracious design, and does what in him lies to countervail and defeat this wondrous work of God. God offers you eternal life; and who shall say that you have not a right to accept what God offers? God commands you to receive his Son; and have you not a right to do what God commands you?
The Scriptures do not confine the influence of the cross to the salvation of a peculiar people. This is its great object, its saving purpose, but this is not all it accomplishes. In one view, and that no unimportant one, the aspect of the Redeemer’s mediation is universal. It relates to the moral government of God and the sinful condition of men. It is the fruit of that Divine compassion, that infinite benevolence, that looks with equal favor upon all mankind. It is a provision for the ungodly. It is the medium of universal access to the Father, and whoever will may come unto God by Jesus Christ.
While he became Surety to the Father that he would rescue a chosen people from the pollution and condemnation of sin, and present them all without spot before the presence of his glory at the last day, he does by this very act introduce the reign of mercy over our entire world. Besides being a personal satisfaction for the sins of all who believe on him, his death was a great moral expedient, which lays the basis for all those equitable dispensations of mercy by which the threatened stroke of justice is averted and the door of hope is opened to the race. It introduces a new era in the moral government of God; so that it is no longer a government of pure law and justice, but a government of mercy lodged in the hands of the Mediator. The object of this gracious government is to arrest the attention of men as sinners; to arrest it to the affecting fact of their fallen and guilty condition, and to the Divine method for their recovery; to justify God in these proclamations of pardon, and to hold out the strongest considerations to induce men everywhere to comply with the offers and claims of the gospel.
Nothing justifies such a dispensation of mercy but the all-sufficient propitiation of the Son, and the infinite merits of that great sacrifice. The sole basis on which such a government rests is the obedience unto death of the great Mediator, furnishing, as it does, not only a perfect satisfaction to Divine justice for the sins of all those who were given to Christ as his own purchased reward, but a public declaration of the righteousness of God in the forgiveness of sins to every possible extent, if men will but repent and believe the gospel. The cross is now accessible to all. No man now perishes because there is not forgiveness with God; no man now perishes because his fate was involved in the issue of the first apostasy; for, under this new constitution, he is put on trial for himself, and must decide for himself whether he will or will not have the gracious Mediator to rule over him.
This view of the cross, I am sensible, differs in some respects from views that are sometimes met with. Is not that an incautious representation of the work of the Redeemer, which represents it as a sort of commercial transaction, in which such an amount of suffering was paid, and no more, as is sufficient to redeem a specified number? I am free to say, that this is a view of the Savior’s sacrifice which I cannot find in the word of God. I cannot see that it is anywhere revealed in the Scriptures, that the amount of the Savior’s sufferings was equal, in value and measure, to what his own people deserved to suffer, and that beyond this their merit is exhausted. Some account has been presented in a preceding chapter of the nature of that great and effective propitiation, and it bears no resemblance to any such arithmetic as this. It is a matter of surprise, that men should ever have pretended to fix the exact amount and value of his sufferings who is God manifest in the flesh. If any would know how much the death of Christ is worth, I know not where, I know not when, they will find the problem solved. Not until measure is exhausted, and numbers fail. The intrinsic value of the cross is infinite, and can never be told. There is enough and to spare. The fountain opened for sin and uncleanness is full—just as full as it was when those whom John saw coming out of great tribulation, washed their robes and were made white in the blood of the Lamb—just as full now, as when righteous Abel washed in it and was made clean.
Nor are the infinite merit and sufficiency of the cross merely incidental to his sacrifice, but a generosity on the part of God which was of settled and deliberate design. The idea that Christ is a special grant to some of the human family, which, from its infinite value, is incidentally sufficient for the whole, is a refinement in theology, the proof of which is not made out from the Holy Scriptures. The salvation of the cross does not happen to be sufficient for all, because a less atonement would not be sufficient for a part; its unmeasured amplitude and fullness were the result of deliberate counsel, and the accomplishment of a purpose formed in the remote recesses of a past eternity.
Its infinite sufficiency does not render it a provision for the fallen angels, because it is a sufficiency never designed for them. The inhabitants of our world sustain a different relation to the death of Christ from that which is sustained by devils. They sustain a different relation to the law of God, in consequence of his death, from that which devils sustain. The devils are under the law as a covenant of works—a broken covenant—and are therefore under its executed penalty—men are under the law "in the hands of the Mediator," and therefore have the warrant to repent and believe the gospel. Those of our lost race who are now living on the earth, and who for their unbelief will finally perish, sustain a different relation to the law from that which they would have sustained, had no propitiation ever been made. They have a day of grace, and though prisoners of law and justice, are "prisoners of hope," and invited to flee to the stronghold. But for the cross, they would have been what fallen angels now are. They have the offer of mercy, which fallen angels have not. They have the privilege of seeking the Lord when he may be found, which fallen angels have not. They may lift their eyes to the mercy-seat, and plead the blood of this great propitiation, which fallen angels may not, dare not do. They enjoy these unutterably precious privileges through the death of Christ, and until the light of hope and mercy is extinguished in the grave. And when this world is passed away, and they lift up their eyes in hell, one of their bitterest reflections will be, that while the chief of sinners are saved by returning to God through Jesus Christ, they might have been saved in the same way, if they had not rejected the great salvation and chosen the paths to death.
Such is the influence of the cross upon the moral government of God, that he can be "just, and the justifier of him who believes in Jesus." The entire race are, in this respect, placed by the death of Christ upon the same footing. The same atonement which renders it consistent with the Divine justice to pardon one returning sinner, renders it equally just to pardon any and every returning sinner. The object of this propitiation is to save the justice of God harmless in pardoning "every one who believes." It has so changed the relations of the entire race to the law of God, that it is not the law which now stands in the way of their salvation, but their own impenitence and unbelief. The legal relations of those who will finally perish, and the legal relations of those who now disbelieve the gospel, and who afterwards believe it and are saved, are now precisely the same. They are all under its curse. "He that believes not is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God." The latter class are pardoned as soon as they return to their allegiance "by faith in his blood;" and the former may be pardoned by falling in with the same gracious and condescending terms of salvation. The cross respects men as sinners; it addresses them as sinners. In its boundless all-sufficiency, it has no concern with them in a numerical view; but regards them as those whose relations to the law of God are so changed by this effective propitiation, that all external obstacles to their salvation are graciously removed. No matter who he is, or where he dwells; no matter what his ignorance, or how many or how aggravated his sins; if he belongs to the lost family of man, the cross is the remedy fitted to reach him in all his woes. There is no locality, or condition, and no variety of the human species, to which the narrative of the cross, and its great and glorious truths, and its ineffable love and mercy, are not alike applicable. They furnish the great remedy which answers and atones for, the guilt and misery of all classes of society, all periods of time, all climates, all nations, all languages, all men. They are equally fitted to the lost condition of one man as another. They are sufficient for the race, and, so far as their unembarrassed sufficiency goes, were designed for the race. There is no man whose forgiveness the cross of Christ does not render just and righteous, on his repenting and believing the gospel. In this view, the cross is a deliberate, designed and honest provision for all men; a privilege of which many may be ignorant, and many fail to improve, but one which, wherever the gospel is known, is as truly in the hands of those who misimprove it and perish, as of those who improve it and are saved.
The proof of these remarks from the Scriptures is abundant, and familiar to every reader of the Bible. "Go into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature." "Whoever will, let him take the water of life freely." "Ho, every one that thirsts, come to the waters." These, and a multitude of passages of similar import, are expressly addressed to all men, and from design. If it be said, that in commissioned messages like these, God requires the ministers of the gospel to make this indiscriminate offer of salvation, because they do not know who will accept them, and because it is not their province to distinguish between those who are and those who are not his chosen people; it must be borne in mind that the offer is God’s own offer, and that his ministers make it only in his name. He endorses it, and speaks through them. He knows who his chosen people are; and the gracious overture is made by his authority and on his behalf. "Warn them from me." "Speak to them my words." "As though God did beseech you by us—we implore you in Christ’s stead, be reconciled to God."
We wish to vindicate the sincerity of the gospel offer; and we do not perceive how it can be vindicated, unless God is both able and willing to do what he offers to do; unless he is willing his offer should be accepted; and unless the offer be made on reasonable terms. He offers to all men salvation, through faith in the blood of his Son. This he is able and has a right to do, because there is infinite sufficiency in the death of Christ. This he is willing to do, or he would not offer it, nor so solemnly have sworn. "As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live."
And the terms on which the offer is made are as reasonable and as low as they can be; for nothing excludes any man from the richest blessings of the gospel but his own cherished rejection of them to the last. I cannot see that it is necessary to the sincerity of the offer, that God should make men themselves willing to accept it. There may be, there are, good reasons for his not doing this, in relation to all those who are finally lost, which do not at all conflict with the sincerity of the offer. The offer he makes is in every view expressive of his own mind and heart, of the infinite merit of his Son, and of the munificence of his condescending grace. Upon this same ground, the obligation rests on all who come within the range of these published invitations to accept them. The obligation is of the highest authority and right in itself. It is the "commandment of the everlasting God," to all men, everywhere. It is an obligation, the neglect of which is not only rebuked and punished, but the sin of sins, and one which, while it cuts off the incorrigible from hope, seals him up to that "much more severe punishment" of which those are thought worthy who tread under their feet the blood of the Son of God. The foundation which is laid in Zion is, therefore, strong and broad enough to sustain the confidence which is required with so much authority, and enforced with such solemn and affecting sanctions.
There are not a few passages of Scripture which seem to me to give strong proof of this conclusion. "God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son;" he is "the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world;"—"Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time;"—"The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world;"—"Christ, the Savior of the world;"—"The bread of God is he which comes down from heaven, and gives life unto the world;"—"My flesh which I gave for the life of the world;"—"If one died for all, then were all dead;"—"That he by the grace of God should taste death for every man." Passages like these must teach either that it was the design of God, by the death of his Son, to save all men, which none but the rashest Universalist believes; or that his Son was set forth to be such a propitiation as is amply sufficient for the salvation of all mankind, if all should repent and believe the gospel.
If the question be asked, what good ends the death of Christ secures by this abundance of merit, since it is not designed to secure the salvation of the race; the inquiry is substantially answered by the general scope and design of the preceding remarks. Is it nothing that it unfolds the love of God to a lost world; that it throws upon men themselves the responsibility of plunging into the pit from this world of mercy, and in defiance of all the cross has done; that it leaves the despisers of his grace without excuse and speechless; and that, for the honor of the just God and Savior, it plants in their bosoms the soul-withering conviction, that because they would not come unto Christ that they might have life, they are the authors of their own destruction?
Who shall tell the influence which the scenes of Calvary have exerted, and will yet exert, even where they fail to be the wisdom of God and "the power of God to salvation?" Is there not a vastly less amount of wickedness in this lower world, even among those who will finally perish, from the very fact that it is a world of hope and mercy, and under the government of the great Mediatorial Prince? Is there no development of character that is of importance to the interests of his kingdom, which would otherwise never have been made? I do not know where to limit the effects of this mighty movement in the Divine empire. The appeal is one to human ignorance; but it is not a solitary one in the government of God. Why does the light shine upon the eyes of the blind, or melodious sounds play around the ears of the deaf? There is no more reason to believe that the privilege of a preached gospel, of an instructive and inviting sanctuary, of a Christian education, of private or social prayer, of advancement in any department of human science, or any other privilege, spiritual or temporal, were in vain given to those who never improve them, than that Christ died in vain in respect to those who reject his salvation. All these things answer important ends even where they are most perverted and abused. For the same reasons that "a price is put into the hands of a fool to get wisdom when he has no heart to it," so the provisions of the cross possess a sufficiency, an amplitude as large as the sins and woes of men, though not accepted by all.
The question, whether the cross bears a relation to the whole or a part of mankind, is, and for centuries has been, a vexed question. If it bears relation only to a part, what is that relation? If it bears any relation to the whole, what is that relation? In one view, its redemption is a definite and particular redemption; because it was effected for the purpose of saving only a part of mankind. There is another view in which it is unlimited and universal; because it is in its own nature sufficient for all, and with the same honesty and fitness, and on the same terms proposed to the acceptance of all. The views we have expressed are equally opposed, on the one hand, to those latitudinarian notions which deny the penal sufferings of Christ, and teach that the great design of his death is simply declaratory and a measure of expediency rather than one demanded by justice; and on the other hand, to those which assign to his sufferings a value measured by the ill deserts of a part of mankind. Where these errors are renounced, and there is a concurrence of views in regard to the nature and all-sufficiency of the Redeemer’s sacrifice, the dispute in regard to its extent is a dispute about words. In a discourse on "The Death of Christ a proper Atonement for Sin," the late Witherspoon remarks—"In this, as in most other debates, matters have been carried a far greater length than the interest of truth requires; and, as is also usual, they have arisen from an improper and unskillful mixture of what belongs to the secret counsels of the Most High with his revealed will, which is the invariable rule of our duty."
The strongest Calvinists, when they speak of the death of Christ as a measure of God’s moral government, and bearing alike upon the condition, conscience, privileges, and hopes of men, give it the greatest amplitude and fullness. In the language of the late M. Mason, "The true and only warrant of faith is the free offer of Christ to us in the gospel. God has made a grant of his Son Jesus Christ, as an all-sufficient Savior, to a lost and perishing world. He has not merely revealed a general knowledge of him, but has directly and solemnly given him to sinners as such, that they might be saved. This gift is absolutely free—indiscriminately to all the hearers of the gospel, and to every one of them in particular."
In an instructive treatise, entitled, "The Death of Death in the Death of Christ," Owen remarks—"Sufficient was the sacrifice of Christ for the redemption of the whole world, and for the expiation of all the sins of all and every man in the world. That it should be applied, made a price for them, and become beneficial to them according to the worth that is in it, is external to it, and does not arise from it, but merely depends on the intention and will of God." Just as, in one view, a feast is prepared for all the invited guests, and in another, only for those who partake of it; so, in one view, is the gospel feast furnished for all, and in another only for those who "hunger and thirst after righteousness," and are partakers of its bounty.
Just as the Bible, in one view, is revealed for all men, and in another view is revealed only for those who read, and understand, and profit by it; so is this more condensed exhibition of its truth and grace, the cross of Christ, in one view made over to all, and in another only to a part.
The cross, therefore, presents you a great, a free salvation. It is your birthright, as born under the benevolent promise, that the Seed of the woman shall bruise the head of the serpent. Were assembled thousands before me, as they stood before Peter on the day of Pentecost, I would isolate each individual among them from the rest, and address him in the language of that apostle, "Repent, and be baptized, every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins." Were the eight hundred million who now compose the population of this globe, assembled on some vast plain, I would be warranted, by the nature and sufficiency of this great salvation, to address each one by himself alone, and, as though he were the only solitary transgressor who needed salvation through the blood of the cross, to assure him in God’s name that he might have it for the taking. I would tell him that nothing is lacking to make it his, but his accepting it.
This is the language of the cross to every living man. God would not seal up his testimony to this lost world without including in it that comprehensive invitation, "And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that hears say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whoever will, let him take the water of life freely." My brother of the lost family of man, it is on this mountain of Zion that the reader and writer are invited to "a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined." The voice of him who was "set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood," does but speak the language of his own warm heart, when he gives you the assurance, that him who comes he will in no wise cast out. Make ever so large demands upon the cross, and you do not exhaust its efficacy. You have no need of any other refuge; no, not even of any auxiliary. It is the exclusive right of that great sufferer to redeem. He insists upon this great and glorious monopoly. Casting his eyes upon you, as you turn over these pages, he says, "Look unto me, and be saved, all you ends of the earth—for I am God, and there is none else."
It is an affecting reality that you still occupy a place in this world of hope. You dwell on the earth where the holy child Jesus was born; where he wept, and bled, and died. There are those to whom this same announcement might have been made; but it is too late to make it to them in that world of darkness and despair. Could we tell them of these glad tidings now—could some herald of heavenly mercy be commissioned to enter that dark abode whence the light of hope has ever been debarred, with what wonder would its wretched inhabitants, from those seats of woe, look at the remarkable messenger! They could scarcely conceive the purpose of his coming; and when, amid the accents of horror which are everywhere uttered, this messenger of heaven should sound forth through the interminable dungeon a note of mercy; human language fails to describe the unknown, the almost infinite emotion that would leap into being at the sound. Oh, could it be told in that gloomy, frightful world, that there is a wondrous method of restoring mercy, words would fail to express their wild passion of joy! even if it could be conceived.
But there are no such glad tidings for those deep abodes of darkness and death. The voice of mercy never has broken that melancholy monotony of ages, and never will break it. But the hope that is denied to lost spirits is imparted to fallen man. The mercy the fallen angels may not look for, and the life which they forever despair of regaining, are offered and brought near to you. To you, is "the word of this salvation sent;" to you, and not to devils; to you, and not to the spirits of lost men; to you, and not to the dead; to you, and not to the heathen; though you are but "man that is a worm, and the son of man which is as a worm;" though your sin abounds, and your iniquities are as scarlet and crimson; and though you have so often rejected it.
And what reception will you now give to it? O polluted and condemned ones! come and wash in this fountain of cleansing and grace; come and find pardon at this blood-stained mercy-seat. O you wanderer and outcast! while the storm lowers, and before it breaks in its fury, hearken to Him who would cover you from its indignation, even as a hen gathers her brood under her wings. The cross is the emblem of tranquility and peace. Help is far off, and death is near, if you turn away from the cross. As God has made you to differ from the devils and the damned, from the heathen and from the spirits of lost men, so does he hold you accountable for his offered grace. "The servant that knew his Lord’s will and did it not, shall be beaten with many stripes." Some future period in your undone eternity may remind you of the cross of Christ. Some deeper cavern in the world of despair may witness the surpassing intensity of your grief, beyond the sorrows of many a less guilty convict, who never trampled upon a Savior’s blood.
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