J. GRESHAM MACHEN: DESTROYING THE OBJECTION TO VICARIOUS SACRIFICE OF CHRIST WITHTHE GLORIOUS MAJESTY OF JESUS
Thus the objection to the vicarious sacrifice of Christ disappears altogether before the tremendous Christian sense of the majesty of Jesus’ Person. It is perfectly true that the Christ of modern naturalistic reconstruction never could have suffered for the sins of others; but it is very different in the case of the Lord of Glory. And if the notion of vicarious atonement be so absurd as modern opposition would lead us to believe, what shall be said of the Christian experience that has been based upon it? The modern liberal Church is fond of appealing to experience. B
ut where shall true Christian experience be found if not in the blessed peace which comes from Calvary? That peace comes only when a man recognizes that all his striving to be right with God, all his feverish endeavor to keep the Law before he can be saved, is unnecessary, and that the Lord Jesus has wiped out the handwriting that was against him by dying instead of him on the Cross. VVho can measure the depth of the peace and joy that comes from this blessed knowledge? Is it a “theory of the atonement,” a delusion of man’s fancy? Or is it the very truth of God?
But still another objection remains against the Christian doctrine of the Cross. The objection concerns the character of God. What a degraded view of God it is, the modern liberal exclaims, when God is represented as being “alienated” from man, and as waiting coldly until a price be paid before He grants salvation! In reality, we are told, God is more willing to forgive sin than we are willing to be forgiven; reconciliation, therefore, can have to do only with man; it all depends upon us; God will receive us any time we choose.
The objection depends of course upon the liberal view of sin. If sin is so trifling a matter as the liberal Church supposes, then indeed the curse of God’s law can be taken very lightly, and God can easily let by-gones be by-gones.
This business of letting by-gones be by-gones has a pleasant sound. But in reality it is the most heartless thing in the world. It will not do at all even in the case of sins committed against our fellow-men. To say nothing of sin against God, what shall be done about the harm that we have wrought to our neighbor? Sometimes, no doubt, the harm can be repaired. If we have defrauded our neighbor of a sum ofmoney, we can pay the sum back with interest.
But in the case of the more serious wrongs such repayment is usually quite impossible. The more serious wrongs are those that are done, not to the bodies, but to the souls of men. And who can think with complacency of wrongs of that kind which he has committed? Who can bear to think, for example, of the harm that he has done to those younger than himself by a bad example? And what of those sad words, spoken to those we love, that have left scars never to be obliterated by the hand of time?
In the presence of such memories, we are told by the modern preacher simply to repent and to let by-gones be by-gones. But what a heartless thing is such repentance! We escape into some higher, happier, respectable life. But what of those whom we by our example and by our words have helped to drag down to the brink of hell? We forget them and let by-gones be by-gones!
Such repentance will never wipe out the guilt of sin–not even sin committed against our fellow-men, to say nothing of sin against our God. The truly penitent man longs to wipe out the effects of sin, not merely to forget sin. But who can wipe out the effects of sin? Others are suffering because of our past sins; and we can attain no real peace until we suffer in their stead. We long to go back into the tangle of our life, and make right the things that are wrong–at least to suffer where we have caused others to suffer. And something like that Christ did for us when He died instead of us on the cross; He atoned for all our sins.
The sorrow for sins committed against one’s fellowmen does indeed remain in the Christian’s heart. And he will seek by every means that is within his power to repair the damage that he has done. But atonement at least has been made–made as truly as if the sinner himself had suffered with and for those whom he has wronged. And the sinner himself, by a mystery of grace, becomes right with God. All sin at bottom is a sin against God. “Against thee, thee only have I sinned” is the cry of a true penitent.
How terrible is the sin against God! Who can recall the wasted moments and years ? Gone they are, never to return; gone the little allotted span of life; gone the little day in which a man must work. Who can measure the irrevocable guilt of a wasted life? Yet even for such guilt God has provided a fountain of cleansing in the precious blood of Christ. God has clothed us with Christ’s righteousness as with a garment; in Christ we stand spotless before the judgment throne.
Thus to deny the necessity of atonement is to deny the existence of a real moral order. And it is strange how those who venture upon such denial can regard themselves as disciples of Jesus; for if one thing is clear in the record of Jesus’ life it is that Jesus recognized the justice as distinguished from the love, of God. God is love, according to Jesus, but He is not only love; Jesus spoke, in terrible words, of the sin that shall never be forgiven either in this world or in that which is to come. Clearly Jesus recognized the existence of retributive justice; Jesus was far from accepting the light modern view of sin.1
J. Gresham Machen
- DO NOT BE UNEQUALLY YOKED WITH UNBELIEVERS
- CONSIDERATION FOR THE WEAKER CHRISTIANS
- GOOD WORKS ACTUALLY EXTEND FROM GOD