THE WAY IN WHICH THE LORD JESUS CHRIST HAS WROUGHT OUT SALVATION FOR ALL MEN
Now, invoking and relying upon the guidance and blessing of Almighty God, we proceed to explain in what manner the Lord Jesus Christ, according to the teaching of both the Old Testament and the New, has wrought out salvation for mankind. There may be much in God’s marvellous plan of salvation which may transcend our finite reason, and it is clear that we cannot know anything of His Divine Purpose except what he has been pleased to reveal to us. Yet the fact that He has given us reason shows us that He wishes us to use it to His glory. And, as He has graciously disclosed to us the method of salvation, it is evident that He wishes us to reflect upon it with reverence and to understand it (1 Thessalonians 5:21), as far as finite creatures can. Nor does our salvation depend upon the keenness of our intellect, but upon the reality of our faith in the Saviour of the world.
That the Most High, out of the fullness of His love and mercy, has vouchsafed to provide salvation for sinners through the Lord Jesus Christ is clearly taught in the New Testament (for instance in Luke 19:10; John 3:16; 2 Corinthians 5:19, 21; 1 Timothy 1:15; 1 Peter 2:21-24; 1 John 2:12; 4:9, 10). The fact that this way of salvation has thus been provided is thus evident. We must now endeavour to explain how salvation can be obtained through Christ, and how it is that such high titles are given Him in these verses and elsewhere. We shall thus in some measure understand His true Nature and Dignity, and learn how He satisfies the conditions mentioned at the end of Chapter III.
The Holy Scriptures inform us that God, in His boundless love and limitless mercy, had from the foundation of the world decided on this way of salvation (Ephesians 3:11; 1 Peter 1:18-21; Revelation 13:8). Hence by the lips of His Prophets in the Old Testament He declared the tribe and family from which the Saviour should spring, the time and manner of His appearance among men, His Nature and rank, and the manner in which He would accomplish His great and merciful work of redemption. Thus in the ages before His blessed Advent those who knew of these Divine Promises rejoiced in faith and looked forward to the great salvation then to be manifested. Adam, the father of all men, was informed by God concerning the coming Saviour. He was told that the promised Redeemer would be so mighty that He would crush the Serpent's head, that is to say, would overcome Satan and deliver mankind from his thraldom and from sin (Genesis 3:14, 15).
We have already seen that God Most High promised Abraham that through his seed blessing should come upon all the nations of the earth (Genesis 22:18). And the New Testament clearly shows that the person thus indicated was the Lord Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:16).
Again, God promised through Moses that this Saviour would be a great Prophet who would arise among the Children of Israel (in accordance with Genesis 17:19, 21, and Genesis 28:14), and would teach the people the way and will of God (Deuteronomy 18:15, 18, 19). That the Prophet thus spoken of was Christ was made plain by a voice from heaven commanding men to hear Him (Matthew 17:5; Mark 9:7), just as God had told Moses that men must hear the promised Prophet, under penalty of severe punishment.
The Divine message came also to David, declaring that the Saviour would be of his posterity, and that His Kingdom would have no end (2 Samuel 7:16; Psalms 89:3, 4, 27, 28, 29, 35, 36, 37; Isaiah 9:6, 7; 11:1; Jeremiah 23:5. 6; 33:15, 16, 17, 20, 21, 25, 26: compare John 12:34).
In Genesis 49:10, we are told that the kingdom would not finally depart from Judah until Shiloh came, this being one of the titles of the promised Messiah.
The Lord Jesus Christ was born of the seed of David (Matthew 1:1; Acts 2:30; 13:22, 23; Romans 1:3) about four or five years before the time when the Christian era began. Here we must explain that the beginning of the Christian era was erroneously fixed in accordance with the calculations of a monk called Dionysius the Little in the reign of the Emperor Justinian. He made a mistake of a few years, but it is convenient to retain the usual reckoning. Herod the Great, King of the Jews, died 4 B.C., when Christ was less than two years old (compare Matthew 2:16), and then the kingdom was divided into four parts. Herod's son Archelaus was made ruler of only one of these parts, Judaea: but about A.D. 6 he was deposed by the Romans and banished. Judaea then became a province of the Roman Empire, instead of a separate kingdom subject to Rome. From that time to this the Jews have never had a king of their own. That they had none, that the sceptre had departed from Judah according to Jacob's prediction, they themselves confessed at the time of Christ's Crucifixion, when they said, “We have no king but Caesar” (John 19:15). Therefore it was clear that the promised Messiah had come.
The place where Christ should be born was mentioned beforehand by the prophet Micah (Micah 5:2), and this passage also taught that he would be no mere man, by describing Him as one “whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting”. The fulfilment of the prophecy is related in Matthew 2:1, 5, 6. That He should be born of a Virgin was implied in Genesis 3:15, and more clearly in Isaiah 7:14, and this was fulfilled (Matthew 1:18-25; Luke 1:26-38), as the Qur'an also admits (Surahs 21:91; 66:12). With reference to His teaching, humiliation, suffering, death, and the Atonement which He would make for the redemption of mankind, there are very many prophecies in the Old Testament, among the principal of which are Isaiah 42:1-9; 61:1-3 (compare Luke 4:17-21); 52:13-15 and 53; Psalms 22. The time at which He should be put to death is clearly stated in the prophecy of Daniel (ch. 9:24-26). For the decree of King Artaxerxes Longimanus (اردشيرِ درازدست ـ اردشير طويل الايادي) of Persia to restore and to build Jerusalem was promulgated in the seventh year of that king's reign (Ezra 7:1, 7), that is to say, in 458 B.C. If from that date we reckon seventy weeks of years (Daniel 9:24), or 490 years, we reach A.D. 32. In Daniel 9:25 and 26 we are told that the Messiah would be cut off between 483 and 490 years from Artaxerxes' decree, that is between A.D. 25 and A.D. 32. This prophecy was fulfilled, for He was crucified between those dates, probably in A.D. 29 or 30. The predicted destruction of the Temple and of Jerusalem (Daniel 9:26, 27) occurred about forty years later, in A.D. 70, when Titus, son of the Roman Emperor Vespasian, destroyed both city and Temple, as Josephus and other historians relate, in accordance with Christ's predictions (Matthew 24:1-28; Mark 13:1-23; Luke 21:5-24). The “tribulation” of those days (Mark 13:24) has not yet come to an end, for the Jews are still scattered everywhere without a country, and our Muslim brethren know the tribulation which the Jews still endure not only throughout all the Muhammadan world, but also in such countries as Russia. Nor are the “times of the Gentiles” fulfilled as yet (Luke 21:24), since Gentiles still hold possession of Jerusalem.
There are in the books of the Prophets numerous passages which predict such matters as the Resurrection of Christ, His session on God's right hand, His Ascension into the Heavens. Such, for example, are Psalms 16:10 (compare Acts 2:22-36); Psalms 110:1; Daniel 7:13, 14. That His Kingdom was to be established at the time when the “fourth kingdom” of Daniel 7:23, i.e. the Roman Empire, still held sway is predicted in Daniel 2:34, 35, 44, 45; 7:7, 9, 13, 14, 23, 27. The four Kingdoms or Empires were the Babylonian, the Persian, the Macedonian, and the Roman (Daniel 2:37-45; 8:20, 21)
When the Lord Jesus Christ was about thirty years of age (Luke 3:23), He began to proclaim the Good News (البِشارة ـ مُزدة), as the Gospels (الاناجيل) inform us. He went about doing good: He wrought many miracles, healed the sick, cast out devils, opened the eyes of the blind, the ears of the deaf, cleansed lepers, and enabled the lame to walk, in accordance with the predictions of the Old Testament Prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 32:1-5; 35:3-6; 42:1-7; 61:1, 2: compare Matthew 11:4, 5; 12:17-21; 21:14 1). Yet, though He possessed and exercised such great power, He never wrought a miracle for His own advantage, or to punish His enemies. He lived in poverty and lowliness (Matthew 8:20), and did not seek any earthly honour and glory. He refused to let people make Him an earthly monarch (John 6:15). And so blameless were His actions, so evident to all men was the holiness of His life and conduct, that He could say to His adversaries, “Which of you convicteth Me of sin?” (John 8:46). Thus were the prophecies regarding His first Advent and His conduct accomplished.
The Lord Jesus Christ chose out twelve Apostles from among the Israelites, and trained them, teaching them the truth which He wished them to teach others. The doctrine upon which all else was based was that of His Divine Sonship, and He declared that on this doctrine as on a rock He would build His Church (Matthew 16:13-18).
When His Apostles had thus learnt that He was the Messiah promised in the Old Testament, the Lord Jesus began to teach them the next great lesson, i.e. that He must be crucified and rise again for the salvation of mankind (Matthew 16:21; Mark 8:31; Luke 9:22). When the time of His decease drew nigh, Christ still more clearly informed His disciples of the nature of the sufferings which He was about to undergo (Luke 18:31-34). On another occasion He told them plainly that He would endure all these sufferings of His own will and because of His great love for mankind, in order that He might give new and eternal life to men (John 6:51; 10:11-18), if they chose to accept this free gift of God (Romans 6:23).
Thus, because of His love towards the children of men, and in order to save them from their sins, He permitted the Jews to seize Him, to mock and buffet Him, and to deliver Him up into the hands of the Roman governor of Judaea, Pontius Pilate, to be scourged and crucified (Matthew 26:47 - 27. 56; Mark 14:43-15:41; Luke 22:47 - 23. 49; John 18:1-19:37). Thus was fulfilled what had been prophesied regarding Him by David ( (Psalms 22) and Isaiah (52:13-53:12), many hundreds of years beforehand.
The Lord Jesus Christ was executed as if He had been a criminal, though His judge, Pilate, acknowledged Him to be innocent of any crime (Matthew 27:24). It was customary among the Jews at that time to cast the bodies of criminals into a place called the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, outside the walls of Jerusalem. There they were either burnt or left to be devoured by jackals and worms. Yet in the case of Jesus this did not take place, for His sacred Body was handed over to Joseph of Arimathaea, a secret disciple, a man of wealth and of high rank, who buried it in his own new tomb (Matthew 27:57-61; Mark 15:42-47; Luke 23:50-56; John 19:37-42). This all took place in exact accord with the prophecy in Isaiah 53:9, where it is said that, though His burial was appointed to be with wicked men, yet at His death He should be “with the rich”.
As Christ had beforehand told His disciples that He would rise again from the dead on the third day (Matthew 16:21; 17:23; 20:19; Luke 9:22; 18:33; 24:7,46), so it came to pass (Matthew 28:1-10; Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24:1-43; John 20; 1 Corinthians 15:4). This also took place in accordance with David's prophecy (Psalms 16:9, 10). After His Resurrection He appeared several times to His disciples during the period of forty days (Acts 1:3), and taught them how completely what had happened to Him had fulfilled the prophecies contained in the Old Testament, and what the object of His Sufferings, Death, and Resurrection really was (Luke 24:27, 44-49). He then gave them the commission to make all nations His disciples (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:8). After this He ascended before their eyes into the Heavens (Luke 24:50, 51; Acts 1:9), leaving them the promise of His triumphal return to reign for ever and ever, as predicted by Daniel (Daniel 7:13, 14, 27), and to fill the earth with the knowledge of God (Isaiah 11:1-9). See Matthew 24:30, 31; 25:31-46; Mark 13:26; Luke 21:27; John 14:1-3; Acts 1:11; Revelation 1:7; 20:11; 21:8.
Since all the promises which God had long beforehand given by the mouth of His prophets in the Old Testament with reference to the first Advent of the Promised Messiah and Saviour of the world, telling the time of His appearing, His work, and the Atonement which He was to make, have thus been fulfilled in the Lord Jesus Christ, it is clear that He is in truth the Saviour to whom the Prophets bore witness and in whom Abraham believed (John 8:56). Let it not be overlooked that the fulfilment of the prophecies concerning the Messiah is a most convincing proof of the inspiration of the Old Testament. For who, without Divine Inspiration (إلهام), could foretell the future in all these particulars many hundreds of years before these events happened? That these things were truly prophesied of is clear, because the prophecies are still found in the Hebrew Old Testament, which is in the hands of the Jews as well as of the Christians. The Jews have rejected Christ, yet they have never dared to erase or alter a single word of these prophecies, though their unbelief and hardness of heart are so sternly condemned thereby.
We have already seen that the Promised Messiah's Nature and dignity are clearly set forth even in the Old Testament; for instance in Psalms 2:7; 45:6; 72; 110:1; Isaiah 6:1-10 (compare John 12:40, 41); Isaiah 9:6, 7; 25:7-9; 40:10, 11; Jeremiah 33:16; Micah 5:2; Malachi 3:1; 4:2, and many other passages. From the fact that His “goings forth are from of old, from everlasting” (Micah 5:2), we can understand how true was His statement, “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58), in which He used of Himself the special and peculiar name of God (Exodus 3:14). Hence we learn that it was He who called Abraham out of Babylonia, who gave Israel the Torah, and who sent the Prophets. The New Testament therefore gives Him no higher titles than does the Old. Both agree in what they testify regarding His Nature (ذات) and dignity. (Compare Matthew 3:16, 17; 16:15, 16, 17; 17:1-8; 26:63, 64; 28:18; Luke 1:32, 35; John 1:1-3, 9-18; 5:17-29; 8:23-29, 42, 56-58; 9:35-37; 10:27-38; 14:9-11; 16:12-15, 28; 17:5, 21; Colossians 1:12-23; Philippians 2:5-11; Hebrews 1; Revelation 1:5-18; 21:6-8; 22:13, 16.) When Muslims reject the invitation to accept Christ as their Saviour (John 5:40), one reason why they do so is because they refuse to believe what He said of Himself and what the earlier Prophets said of Him.
We must not forget that it would have been impossible for Christ to save the world from sin and from hatred towards God, were He a mere creature, even the highest of all creatures. Hence salvation depends upon perfect trust in Him, as being what He claimed to be and what the Holy Scriptures of both the Old Testament and the New testify that He was. Thus we see that belief in His Deity is no corruption of the Christian faith, but is of the very essence of all true religion. For, were He a creature, His goodness and His sufferings could be no proof of God's love to man. These things would rather render it difficult to believe in the love and mercy of God Most High, if He caused the highest and best of His creatures to suffer such pain and sorrow. But when we accept the teaching of the Bible, and recognize that “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself” (2 Corinthians 5:19), and perceive that He is One with His Father (John 10:30), then we begin in some measure to understand that, if the doctrine of the Holy Trinity 2 be true, God Most High is merciful, and does care for us. Then we find that the cream of the Gospel (الِبشارة) and the essence of the whole Bible is contained in John 3:16, and that this appeals to our hearts and draws them in love and devotion to God, who has first loved us (1 John 4:9).
The fact that in the former of these two verses (John 3:16) the title “Son of God” (إبن الله) is given to Christ has been a great stumbling-block to Muslims, because they think that this is absolutely contradicted by Surah 112. But in reality this is largely due to a misunderstanding of the Christian doctrine. Let it be frankly stated that, in the sense in which the Qur'an uses the words of that Surah, they are undoubtedly true, and can be employed by all Christians. 3 In that Surah the Qur'an is denouncing and teaching men to repudiate as blasphemous all such carnal ideas of generation as were entertained by the heathen in all lands. Even the Arabs in the Times of Ignorance attributed daughters 4 to God Most High in this blasphemous sense. But Christians have never held any doctrine in the slightest degree similar to that. Hence it is that we do not use the expression Waladu'llah (وَلدُ اللهِ ), but call the Lord Jesus Christ Ibnu'llah (إبن الله). The difference between the two expressions is very great, for the word ibn is suitable for use in a metaphorical sense, which sense is needed in the title “Son of God”. But walad is not used metaphorically. Christian writers who lived hundreds of years before the Hijrah repeatedly denounced the carnal ideas of the heathen, and pointed out in what an entirely different sense the title of Ibnu’llah is given to Christ. For instance, Lactantius, writing about A.D. 306, more than 300 years before the Hijrah, says: “ He 5 who hears the words ‘Son of God' spoken must not conceive in his mind such great wickedness as to fancy that God procreated through marriage and union with any female,—a thing which is not done except by an animal possessed of a body and subject to death. But since God is alone, with whom could He unite? or, since He was of such great might as to be able to accomplish whatever He wished, He certainly had no need of the comradeship of another for the purpose of creating.”
The fact should be noted that, when philosophical language is used in the Gospel, our Lord Jesus Christ is styled “The Word of God” (كَلِمَةُ اللهِ), as in John 1:1, 14; Revelation 19:13 (compare the title “Word of Life” in 1 John 1:1). The other title, Ibnu’llah, has really the same meaning, but it is used for two special reasons: (1) for the benefit of simple people, who are the great majority of the human race, and who could not understand the former phrase, and (2) because it enables us to realize the personality of the Word of God (كَلِمَةُ اللهِ) and the love which exists between the Divine Hypostases (الاقانيم) of the Holy Trinity (compare John 15:9, 10; 17:23, 26). Neither of these latter facts could be expressed by the title “The Word of God”. It is true that no human vocables (الفاظ) can be well suited to express at all fully and correctly the realities of the Divine Nature (ذات), but we cannot be wrong in employing the terms used in the Holy Scriptures by men who wrote under Divine Guidance and Inspiration (إلهام). The relation which subsists between the Hypostases in the Divine Unity infinitely transcends human language and thought; yet we can in some measure understand something of it. The limitless ocean cannot be contained in a cup, yet enough of it can be held in such a vessel to give us some idea of its nature. Both titles, “The Word of God” and “The Son of God”, are used in the New Testament with the same meaning; i.e. they express the fact of Christ's essential Deity, His oneness with the Father (John 10:30). Only by believing what Christ Himself says on this point can we at all understand the doctrine of the Atonement and the way of salvation through Christ, who tells us that only through Him can men come to God the Father (John 14:6: compare Acts 4:12).
The Old Testament and the New not only agree in ascribing to Christ the attributes of Deity, but they also denote His Divine Nature by clearly and plainly calling Him God: for example, in Psalms 45:6, 7; Isaiah 9:6; John 20:28, 29; Romans 9:5; Hebrews 1:8; 1 John 5:20. Whoever will carefully and prayerfully study such passages as these will perceive that these exalted titles are given to Christ, not from exaggeration or courtesy, but because they express a truth essentially important for men to know.
The thoughtful Muslim is aware that the Qur'an agrees with the New Testament in calling Christ “the Word of God” (كَلِمَةُ اللهِ) 6 We shall deal with this more fully, if it please God, when we come to inquire into the doctrine of the Most Holy Trinity. 7 Here we call attention to the matter, in order to remove from the eyes of our honoured readers any shadow of the veil of prejudice which so often prevents men from seeing the light of God's truth. Every true Muslim must admit that those matters in which the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the Qur'an, all three Books, agree must be true. They agree with one another on several points, among which are the Unity of God and the fact that the Lord Jesus Christ is the Word of God (كَلِمَةُ الله).
And the Word of God, that Word who was in the beginning with God, through which Word of God all created things came into existence (John 1:1-3), became incarnate and for a time tabernacled among men (John 1:14; Philippians 2:5-11). He ate and drank, slept and awoke, shared human sorrow and human joy, was tempted in all points like as we are, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15; compare Hebrews 7:26; 1 Peter 2:21-25). That He a was a real man, possessed of body, soul, and spirit, is clear from the whole of the Four Gospels. This too He taught by so frequently speaking of Himself as the Son of Man, a title which, besides teaching us His perfect humanity, also recalls to our memory what was prophesied of Him in Genesis 3:15, and Daniel 7:13. Moreover, as Saviour of Mankind and Mediator between men and God, and as Himself the Perfect and Sinless Man, He prayed to God His Father, and did many other things which properly belong to human nature. But He was also Divine, and He asserts His Deity when He calls God His Father, telling us of His subordination as a son to His Father and His Divine Mission in such words as these: “I am come down from Heaven, not to do Mine own will, but the will of Him that sent Me” (John 6:38): “The Father which sent me, He hath given Me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak” (John 12:49); “The Father is greater than I” (John 14:28). Yet He prevents all danger of our associating partners with God by teaching so emphatically the Unity of God (Mark 12:29; John 17:3) and His own Oneness with God (John 10:30; 17:21). This Word of God (كَلِمَةُ الله), the Son of God, the Son of Man, the Lord Jesus Christ, “bore our griefs and carried our sorrows”: “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 (Isaiah 53:4, 5). Being by Nature (ذات) the Word of God, He prided not Himself upon His Divine Exaltation, but laid aside His glory that He had with His Father before the world came into existence (John 17:5) by “taking the form of a servant (عبد), being made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, becoming obedient even unto death, yea, the death of the cross. Wherefore also God highly exalted Him, and gave unto Him the Name which is above every name; that in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven and things on earth and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:7-11).
If anyone inquire, “How is it possible for the Divine Nature to be united with human nature?” we reply by asking, “How is it possible for spirit and flesh, the enduring (الباقى) and the transient (الفانى) to be united with one another in man?” Whatever the Almighty God, the Creator and Ruler of all things, may in His infinite Wisdom will, He is also able to accomplish. Moreover, the Gospel informs us that the relation between the humanity of Christ and His Divine Nature is such that the humanity is neither changed into Deity nor is the Deity confounded with the humanity. It is true that this peculiar relationship is incomprehensible to our limited human intellect, and can be known only through being revealed in God's Holy Word (كلام). Yet it is clear that this union of the Divine and the human nature in Christ took place in order that the eternal purpose of the Glorious God might be accomplished. This gracious purpose was that mankind should be saved from destruction, freed from sin and from the slavery and tyranny of Satan, reconciled to God, and might thus enjoy the bliss of a holy and happy eternity in His presence. Having redeemed by His own blood men of every tribe and tongue and people and nation (Revelation 5:9), Christ has become to us, by the holy and unselfish life which He lived on earth, an example of pure and holy living, and has left us this example that we might follow His steps (John 13:15; 1 Peter 2:21).
Some men often ask us, “Could not God Most High have saved men from hell fire by the mere exercise of His Almighty Will, and have shown mercy on those whom He willed to save without any such ‘Plan of Salvation' as that which Christians say is taught in the Bible? Is it not sufficient for Him to say, ‘Be,' that every purpose of His may be accomplished?”
In reply we must first point out that the question arises from a total misunderstanding of man's nature, condition, and spiritual needs, and also from failing to comprehend the great fact that God is Holy. Sin is not only in itself contrary to and hateful to the Divine Nature, but it is also ruinous and destructive to the true, original, spiritual nature of man made in God's likeness (Genesis 1:26, 27). Hence Sin is absolutely prohibitive of the possibility of man's ever enjoying eternal happiness, until he be entirely freed from it. To refrain from casting sinners into hell fire would be easy: but in what manner can man's heart and mind, conscience and thought, be cleansed from the gnawing leprosy of sin already committed and the yearning to commit more sin? Sin is the worst form of leprosy, for it is leprosy of the spirit. Death frees a man from bodily leprosy, but it cannot free him from spiritual leprosy. Can a spiritual leper enjoy eternal life? Does not the vileness and pollution of the state of living death in which he exists render him miserable, hateful to himself and to all others, and most of all to God, who is Holy and who hates sin? The Torah of Moses forbade a man whose body was leprous to enter into the camp of the Israelites (Leviticus 13:45, 46) and associate with his fellows. How much less possible is it that the man whose heart and spirit are smitten with the pollution of the spiritual leprosy of sin should enter Paradise and be permitted to enjoy the meeting with his Lord, the Lord of the worlds, the Holy God! Hence it is written: “There shall in no wise enter into it anything unclean, or he that maketh an abomination and a lie: but only they which are written in the Lamb's book of life” (Revelation 21:27). Even leprosy of the body cannot be healed by the leper himself, nor by any human physician. Christ healed it, and He can heal the leprosy of the spirit also. But He never healed bodily leprosy against the will of the leper, and He will not heal spiritual leprosy by force and against the sinner's will. If a man, not content with indulging in licentiousness in this lower world, is so defiled in his spirit that his highest idea of happiness in the next world is to be permitted unlimited indulgence in such vileness in Paradise to all eternity, he is a spiritual leper. Christ can heal that leprosy: none but Christ can. But Christ will not cleanse the leper against his will. Only through hearty repentance and true faith in Christ can he obtain from Him healing and cleansing. He must cry with David, “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalms 51:10). To heal the leprous heart and spirit is to cleanse the thoughts and the disposition from the love of sin and to restore them to the beauty of holiness, which sin has destroyed. How is this to be done? God always works by means. The means which the Bible tells us He has chosen for this work is to reveal Himself in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Word of God, and to manifest His love for men by bearing men's sufferings and sharing their sorrows in Christ's human nature, who died on the cross for men and through their sins, that so He might draw their 8 hearts to Him, and by so doing might lead them to hate sin and to seek grace from Him to resist and overcome it. Thus a new nature is produced in every true believer in Christ, a clean heart is given him, and a right spirit is renewed within him. Thus the Most Merciful God makes such a man a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17).
We do not venture to say that there was no other way in which God could save sinners from their sins: but the Bible clearly teaches that this is the one way which He has in His Wisdom chosen (Matthew 1:21; John 14:6). Nor is it possible to conceive of any method which would be more worthy of the Holy, Righteous, Most Merciful God.
As there is much misunderstanding about the Christian doctrine of the Atonement [καταλλαγη, Romans 5:11], we must here endeavour to explain it clearly and briefly. By Atonement we mean Reconciliation between God and man. Man has fallen from the condition in which God created him, and has, first through Adam's sin and then through each man's choice of evil instead of good, lost the true and eternal life (Genesis 3:3) which consists in the knowledge of God through Christ (John 17:2). The only way in which man can therefore recover from this spiritual death is by receiving new spiritual life from God, the Giver of Life. This life is in Christ Jesus (John 1:4; 5:26; Colossians 3:4; 1 John 5:12), and is given to men through Him alone (Acts 4:12). Christ Jesus unites believers to Himself through faith, thus making them branches of Himself, the true Vine (John 15:1-6). In this way He imparts to them something of His own holy Nature and character, making them, so to speak, partakers of His own flesh and blood (John 6:40, 47, 48, 51-58, 63). He took human nature upon Him and became man, becoming the Second Adam, the spiritual head and representative of the human race (John 1:14; 1 Corinthians 15:22, 45). By union with Him through faith (Galatians 2:20) those who believe in Him receive authority to become sons of God (John 1:12; 1 John 3:1-3; 4:9) in virtue of the new and heavenly birth which they receive from the Holy Spirit of God (John 3:3, 5). Dying in Christ to sin, they in Him live again unto righteousness (Romans 6:1-11).
In order that man should be delivered from that eternal death which is the result and the punishment of sin (Genesis 3:3; Ezekiel 18:20; Romans 6:23), it was necessary that, as man had willingly broken God's law of righteousness (Genesis iii), he should willingly obey that holy law to the utmost. The Word of God (كَلِمَةُ الله), having become perfect man, did this. He was “obedient even unto death, yea, the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:7, 8: compare Romans 5:19). By His precious death for us He who was free from all sin gave His life a ransom for many (Isaiah 53:5, 6; Matthew 20:28; Romans 3:25; 4:25; 5:8-11; 1 Peter 2:24). It is not correct to say that He bore the punishment of our sins, for punishment implies guilt, and in Him was no sin (1 John 3:5): but all His sufferings were because of our sins, and by means of those sufferings all who truly believe in Him are delivered from sin and its final and most fearful consequence, which is exclusion from God's presence and eternal death. If Christ had been merely man, by His perfect obedience even unto death He could have done nothing except save Himself, for He could not have given spiritual life unto other men. But, being perfect God as well as perfect man, He can and does give this new spiritual life to those who believe in Him (John 5:26). God is immortal, and cannot die: but the Word of God (كَلِمَةُ الله), becoming man, was able in His human nature to taste of death for every man (Hebrews 2:9). For us He died unto sin once (Romans 4:25; 6:10). but He rose again from the dead, having conquered death and annulled it (2 Timothy 1:10), and brought life to those who are united to Him by faith (John 3:16; 11:25, 26).
As we have already said, God must hate sin because He is Holy by Nature. Sin in us can be overcome only through the manifestation of God's love 9 in Christ Jesus, whom we love because He first loved us (John 3:16; 1 John 4:19). This constraining love of Christ enables us to love Him and, by the grace of God's Holy Spirit, to live in accordance with God's holy will in some measure here, and fully beyond the grave (2 Corinthians 5:14).
Through Christ's death on the cross two special benefits are offered to us: (1) deliverance from eternal death, and (2) grace to hate sin and to overcome it (Romans 6:5-11; Galatians 2:20; 6:14; Colossians 3:1-17; 1 John 1:7). He has ransomed us from our bondage to sin (Matthew 20:28; 1 Corinthians 1:30; Ephesians 1:7; 1 Peter 1:18-21). He has offered the one true and effectual propitiation [ἱλασμός, كفارة] for sin (Hebrews 2:17; 1 John 2:2; 4:10), of which the sacrifices for sin under the Jewish law were but symbols.
Our conscience, which accuses us of sin and threatens us with the wrath of God, thereby teaches us our urgent need of a reconciliation with God Most High. As we cannot ourselves offer a perfect propitiation, God has provided one in Christ, who is perfect man as well as perfect God. Christ's death shows us the terrible and heinous nature of sin. The crime of putting Christ to death was the acme and consummation of the world's sin. Self-love and self-will had caused Adam's sin. Christ on the cross offered self to death. The atoning virtue of His death consists not in His physical sufferings as such, but in the infinite offering of His love, which led Him, the sinless Head of the human race, to endure the suffering which is the result of other men's sins. He of His own free will (John 10:17, 18) laid down His life for us, and He thereby as our representative made an act of submission to the justice of God's sentence on sin and on sinners (Ezekiel 18:20). It was not the actual death itself so much as the free surrender of Himself, and obedience to God's Holy Will even unto death, that was of the essence of the sacrifice which He offered for us. Yet He suffered everything that human nature united to the Divine Nature could suffer, and that not only in body, but in mind and spirit also, for His grief for men's sins broke His loving heart (John 19:34). Being one with His Father, His holiness and His love for man led Him to feel the heinousness of our sins: becoming one with us in His humanity, He felt the terrible nature of the curse under which sin must necessarily lie, since God is perfectly Holy. Hence Christ “tasted death for every man” (Hebrews 2:9) in a way in which none but the Sinless One could (Psalms 22:1; Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34). Thus were displayed at once God's love. His justice, and His mercy.
He who in His human nature died on the cross was God as well as man. As He took upon Himself the burden of our sins and died on the cross for us sinners, therefore those who by true faith are united to Him as branches to the vine (John 15:4, 5) receive forgiveness of sin and are delivered from the fear of death (Hebrews 2:14, 15), since the sting of death is sin (1 Corinthians 15:56), which causes the unpardoned sinner to look forward with a fearful dread to the wrath of God. That Christ's sacrifice was accepted and His Atonement effectual is proved by His Resurrection (Romans 1:4), and His Ascension to Heaven (Luke 22:51) to present Himself there as our representative (Hebrews 9:24), and to return to the glory which He had with His Father before the world had come into existence (John 17:5).
We now proceed to point out a few of the blessed results which proceed from the Atonement made by the Lord Jesus Christ.
The first of these is that God for Christ's sake forgives the sins and transgressions of all true Christians (Romans 5:5-21; Ephesians 1:3-7; Hebrews 10:1-25; 1 John 1:7). Then God, for Christ's sake, grants them His special grace and the light of His heavenly guidance. He illumines their hearts so that they may be able to understand their own inner condition and may truly know God. By filling their hearts with love to Himself, who first loved them, He enables them to go on gaining more and more spiritual strength, so as to keep His commandments, attain to purity of heart, and acquire perfect knowledge of the truth (John 8:31; Romans 5:5; 8:5; 1 Corinthians 1:4, 5; 2 Corinthians 4:6; Ephesians 1:15-23; Philippians 4:13; Colossians 2:3; Titus 2:11-14; Hebrews 9:11-14). Another result of the Atonement is that Christ has thereby freed His true disciples from the slavery of Satan, has delivered them from the love of sin, and has made them heirs of eternal felicity (Romans 8:12-17; 2 Timothy 1:9, 10; Hebrews 2:14, 15; 1 Peter 1:3-9).
Now, since the salvation offered to sinners in Christ is so blessed and so precious a thing that by it men are cleansed from the defilements of sin, have the gate of God's good pleasure and loving-kindness opened to them, find enlightenment and sanctification, and at last enter upon the enjoyment of eternal life and endless, pure and holy felicity, it is therefore clearer than the sun at noonday that the doctrines of the Gospel are those which satisfy those yearnings of man's heart of which we have spoken in the Introduction. Hence the Bible must be the True Revelation, the Word (كلام) of God.
If a man who has heard the good tidings of salvation rejects it, the reason no doubt is that he has not repented of his sins, and is ignorant of the state of his own heart in God's sight. If a man is indifferent to his own dangerous condition, and does not perceive that his spirit is attacked by the deadly leprosy of sin, which is hastening him to eternal death, then he will not seek for the cure which the one true Physician of the soul is offering him. But to the man who, being aware of the sinful state of his own heart, knows that sin is hateful in the sight of the Most Holy God, and that he himself is in the greatest danger of perishing because of his sins, since he cannot make atonement for them, the glad tidings of the salvation which Christ has purchased for him with His own most precious blood, and which He freely offers to every true Christian, must be the most sweet and comforting of all things. This good news of a freely proffered salvation is a balm which is able to heal his heart, bruised and crushed by the intolerably weighty burden of sin. If, however, a man is in slavery to his own sensual desires and base passions, and is sunk in the abyss of love of the present world, then he is like the bat, which hates and shuns the light of the sun. Such a man flees from the light of the glorious Gospel, and by rejecting the light he condemns himself to abide in the outer darkness (John 3:19-21). It is not possible for such persons to understand spiritual things, hence the Gospel seems to them foolishness, as it seemed to the heathen Greeks of old (1 Corinthians 1:18-25; 2:14). On the other hand, to the man who is earnestly seeking the truth and wishes to know and to do God's will, the revelation of God's love and mercy in Christ Jesus, and the manifestation of the way of salvation through Him, come as a well-spring of true blessedness at which he can quench the thirst of his heart as he journeys through the desert of this life below.
In the Divine Plan of Salvation God's love and mercy, as well as His justice and holiness, are clearly manifested. Out of the abundance of His love, and to save man from the destruction caused by sin, God hath freely given His only Son, the effulgence of His glory, in order that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. Thus does this priceless doctrine exhibit most clearly those Attributes of God which it behoves us most to know, and, by teaching us how abhorrent sin is in His most holy sight, it urges us to obey His commandments and walk in the way of faith in Christ which leads to eternal life.
Let it not escape the notice of the wise and thoughtful that in the realm of creation the great and glorious Creator has elsewhere given us to perceive something analogous to this way of salvation through the sufferings of Christ on our behalf. The father of a family often has to toil and suffer and risk his life in order to procure the food and clothing on which his children's health and life depend. The physician has often to incur great danger, and sometimes to die by disease, in order that he may try to save the sick. Even the birds of the air toil to build nests and to hatch and feed their young; and the mother bird will risk her life in battling with a hawk in order to preserve her chicks from his talons. God has put love for their young into the hearts of birds and beasts as well as of men. Pure and unselfish love often calls for self-sacrifice. Hence it is not incredible to thoughtful men that God has Himself manifested love in giving His only Son, one with Himself, to suffer and to die and to rise again from the dead for the salvation of His creatures.
Since faith and reliance upon Christ, who loved and gave Himself for us, is the medicine which the Almighty and All-Wise God has appointed as the remedy for the leprosy of sin, therefore he who, trusting to God's boundless wisdom, uses this remedy thereby gains spiritual health and attains true blessedness. And as the restoration of the sick man to health through use of the medicine prescribed by the physician is a proof of the efficacy of that remedy, so the believer in Christ, having been healed from love of sin through faith in the Saviour who laid down for him His precious life, knows assuredly the efficacy of the spiritual cure revealed in the Gospel. Hence with grateful heart he thanks and serves the true Physician.
Thus the attainment of salvation from sin through faith in Christ is a clear proof of the truth of His teaching, and shows that the Bible which bears witness to Him is the Word (كلام) of God.
1. See also Surah 3:43.
2. See Chapter V of this Second Part.
3. As can also those of Surah 6:101: “The Originator of the heavens and of the earth, how should He have a child (ولد)? and He had not a female friend, and He hath created everything.
4. Surahs 6:100: 16:59.
5. “Qui audit Dei Filium dici, non debet tantum nefas mente concipere ut existimet ex connubio ac permistione feminae alicuius Deum procreasse, quod non facit nisi animal corporale mortique subiectum. Deus autem, quum solus sit, cui permiscere se potuit? aut, quum esset tantae potestatis ut quidquid vellet efficeret, utique ad. creandum societate alterius non indigebat” (Divinae Institutiones, Bk. iv, ch. 8).
6. In Surah 4:169, it is evident that كَلِمَتُهُ equals كَلِمَةُ اللهِ compare Surah 19:35, where He is called قَوْلُ الْحَقّ.
7. See Chapter V of this Second Part of our Treatise.
8. See 2 Corinthians 5:14.
9. [Compare Augustine, Tract. CX. in Iohannem, quoted by Calvin, Institutio Christianae Religionis, Lib. ii, cap. xvi, § 4.]