“This is the mystery of the Divine love” by Herman Bavinck

“The sacrifice of Christ is related to our sins.

Already in the Old Testament we read that Abraham offered a burnt offering in the place of his son (Gen. 22:13), that by the laying on of hands the Israelite caused a sacrificial animal to take his place (Lev. 16:1), and that the servant of the Lord was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities (Isa. 53:5).

In the same way the New Testament establishes a very close connection between the sacrifice of Christ and our sins. The Son of man came into the world to give His life a ransom for many (Matt. 20:27 and 1 Tim. 2:6).

He was delivered up for, or for the sake of, our sins (Rom. 4:25), He died in relationship to our sins, or, as it is usually put, on behalf of our sins.

The communion into which Christ, according to the Scriptures, has entered with us is so intimate and deep that we cannot form an idea or picture of it. The term substitutionary suffering expresses in only a weak and defective way what it means.

The whole reality far transcends our imagination and our thought. A few analogies can be drawn of this communion, it is true, which can convince us of its possibility.

We know of parents who suffer in and with their children, of heroes who give themselves up for their country, of noble men and women who sow what others after them will reap.

Everywhere we see the law in operation that a few work, struggle, and fight in order that others get the fruit of their labor and enjoy its benefits.

The death of one man is another man’s livelihood. The kernel of grain must die if it is to bear fruit. In pain the mother gives birth to her child.

But all of these are but so many comparisons, and they cannot be equated with the fellowship into which Christ entered with us.

For scarcely for a righteous man will one die, though one might conceivably die for a good man. But God commends His love towards us in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:7-8).

There really was no fellowship between us and Christ, but only separation and opposition. For He was the only-begotten and beloved Son of the Father, and we were all like the lost son.

He was just and holy and without any sin, and we were sinners, guilty before the face of God, and unclean from head to foot.

Nevertheless, Christ put Himself into fellowship with us, not merely in a physical (natural) sense, by putting on our nature, our flesh and blood, but also in a juridical (legal) sense, and in an ethical (moral) sense, by entering into the fellowship with our sin and death.

He stands in our place; He puts Himself into that relationship to the law of God in which we stood; He takes our guilt, our sickness, our grief, our punishment upon Himself; He who knew no sin was made sin for us that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him (2 Cor. 5:21).

He becomes a curse for us in order that He should redeem us from the curse of the law (Gal. 3:13).

He died for all in order that they who live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him which died for them, and rose again (2 Cor. 5:15).

This is the mystery of salvation, the mystery of the Divine love.

We do not understand the substitutionary suffering of Christ, because we, being haters of God and of each other, cannot come anywhere near calculating what love enables one to do, and what eternal, infinite, Divine love can achieve.

But we do not have to understand this mystery either. We need only believe it gratefully, rest in it, and glory and rejoice in it.

He was wounded for our transgressions, and bruised for our iniquities. The chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed.

All we like sheep had gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way. And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all (Isa. 53:5-6).

What shall we say of these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?

He spared not His own Son hut delivered Him up for us all. How shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?

Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifies.

Who is he that condemns? It is Christ that died, yes, rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God and who also makes intercession for us (Rom. 8:31–34).”

–Herman Bavinck, The Wonderful Works of God (trans. Henry Zylstra; Glenside, PA: Westminster Seminary Press, 1956/2019), 336-337.

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