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“Atonement is at the top” by Herman Bavinck

“The benefits Christ obtained for us through His perfect obedience are so rich that they seem almost impossible to enumerate and are never fully appreciated.

They include no less than the whole and complete work of salvation; they consist in redemption from the greatest evil– sin– with all its consequences of misery and death, and include the gift of the highest good– communion with God and all His blessings.

Among all these benefits, atonement is at the top. This is expressed in the New Testament by two words, which unfortunately have been translated as the same word in our translation.

The one word (or rather different words but from the same stem) appears in Romans 3:25, Hebrews 2:17, 1 John 2:2 and 4:10: it is the (147] translation of a Hebrew word that originally means “to cover” and then indicates the propitiation (verzoening) brought about by the sacrifice to God.

Just like now, in the Old Testament worship the sacrificial blood was an actual means for atoning for (Lev. 11:17; Heb. 9:12) the sin (guilt, impurity) of the sacrificer before God, and so deprived sin of its power to provoke God to anger.

Likewise in the New Testament, Christ is the high priest who through His sacrificial blood, through His perfect obedience unto death, covers our sins before God, turns away His wrath, and makes us partakers of His grace and favor.

He is the means of propitiation (Rom. 3:25), the atonement (de verzoening) (1 John 2:2; 4:10), the high priest, who is working with God to atone for the sins of the people.

Distinct from this objective atonement (verzoening), which Christ has brought about on our behalf before God, is now another kind [of atonement], which in the New Testament is indicated by a second, specific word.

This word appears in Romans 5:10-11 and 2 Corinthians 5:18-20; it originally has the meaning of reversal, exchanging, reckoning, settling, and denoting– in the places where it occurs– that new, gracious disposition God has toward the world on the basis of the sacrifice made by Christ.

As Christ covers our sin by His death and has averted God’s wrath, God sets Himself in another reconciled relationship to the world and says this to us in his gospel, which is thus called the word of reconciliation (verzoening).

This reconciliation (verzoening) is also an object; it is not something that comes about first through our faith and our conversion, but it rests on the atonement (satisfaction) that Christ has already made, consists of the reconciled, merciful relationship of God to us, and is received and accepted by us in faith (Rom. 5:11).

Since God has cast off His hostile [148] disposition on the basis of the death of Christ, we are exhorted to also put off our enmity and to be reconciled to God and to enter into the new, reconciled relationship God Himself sets before us.

Everything is finished; there is nothing left for us to do.

We may rest with all our soul and for all of time in the perfect work of redemption that Christ has accomplished; we may accept by faith that God has renounced His wrath and we have been reconciled (verzoend) in Christ to God, and that He is God and Father to guilty and unholy sinners.

Whoever wholeheartedly believes this gospel of reconciliation immediately receives all the other benefits acquired by Christ. For in the relationship of peace in which God places Himself to the world in Christ, all other goods of the covenant of grace are contained.

Christ is one and cannot be divided nor accepted in part; the chain of salvation is unbreakable.

‘Those whom God has predestined, these He has called, and those whom He called, these He has also justified, and those whom He has justified, these He has also glorified (Rom. 8:30).

Thus all who are reconciled to God through the death of His Son receive the forgiveness of sins, adoption as His children, peace with God, the right to eternal life, and the heavenly inheritance (Rom. 5:1; 8:17; Gal. 4:5).

They are in union with Christ, having been crucified with Him, buried, and raised, seated in heaven, and are increasingly conformed to His image (Rom. 6:3; 8:29; Gal. 2:20; Eph. 4:22-24).

They receive the Holy Spirit who renews them, guides them into the truth, testifies of their sonship, and seals them until the day of redemption (John 3:6; 16:13; Rom. 8:15; 1 Cor. 6:11; Eph. 4:30).

In this fellowship of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, believers are free from the [149] law (Rom. 7:1; Gal. 2:19; 3:13, 25; 4:5; 5:1), and they are exalted above all power of the world and death, hell and Satan (John 16:33; Rom. 8:38; 1 Cor. 15:55; 1 John 3:8; Rev. 12:10).

God is for them, so who then will be against them (Rom. 8:31)?”

–Herman Bavinck, Guidebook for Instruction in the Christian Religion, translated and edited by Gregory Parker Jr. and Cameron Clausing (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Academic, 2022), 123-124.

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“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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“The Sufferings of the Suffering Servant” by Graham Cole

“The servant sprinkles the nations, an idea with sacrificial overtones (Isa. 52:15). He takes on our infirmities and carries our sorrows (Isa. 53:4).

He is pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities and bears our punishment (Isa. 53:5).

He substitutes for others. But in so doing He brings peace (shalom, Isa. 53:5).

His wounds heal (Isa. 53:5). All this when we mistakenly thought it was God who was afflicting Him for His iniquities (Isa. 53:6).

He suffers for the sins of others, not His own. He is like a sacrificial lamb going to slaughter (Isa. 53:7). His conduct is exemplary (Isa. 53:7).

Experiencing violence, He returns none (Isa. 53:9). He even intercedes for the transgressors (Isa. 53:12).

He bears our iniquities and in fact bears the sins of many (Isa. 53:11-12). He becomes a guilt offering (Isa. 53:11).

This is the offering that wipes out guilt (cf. Lev. 5:1-19; Num. 5:8; 1 Sam. 6:3-8)… His faithfulness leads to triumph (Isa. 53:10-12).”

–Graham A. Cole, God the Peacemaker: How Atonement Brings Shalom NSBT, Vol. 25 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009), 100-101.

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