Dr. W. A. Criswell
8-8-54 7:30 p.m.
In your Bible, turn to the fifth chapter of the Book of Romans, the fifth chapter of the Book of Romans; Romans 5. And the message tonight is in the eleventh verse. You will find a word in that verse that is used nowhere else in the New Testament. It is used only there; that is, in the Bible you hold in your hand, the King James Authorized Version. Now let me read the context, the ninth verse:
Much more, being now justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.
For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.
That was the message this morning: if when we were lost, condemned, guilty, undone sinners, Christ died on the cross and therein made reconciliation, justification, atonement, found forgiveness, wrought salvation for us in His death. If He did that in His death, how much more certainly shall we be finally delivered at the gates of glory because Christ rose again? He lives. He lives. Being reconciled, how much more then shall we be saved [Romans 5:10]—guarded, kept, delivered—by His life?
And this is the sermon tonight: the next verse, “And not only so, but we exalt in God, we glory in God, through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement” [Romans 5:11]. And the word is “the atonement.” No other place in the Bible will you find it, “the atonement.” Atonement: it is one of the great words of our language. What does it mean? What does it refer to? The Greek word, katallagē, that is translated here “atonement,” is used in eight other places in the Bible; all of the instances by the apostle Paul. It is used twice here in the tenth verse, “For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled,” translated reconciled, “to God by the death of His Son, much more, being reconciled,” there it is used again, “we shall be saved by His life. And not only so, but we rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus, by whom we have now received,” and there is that word again, they translated it here “atonement” [Romans 5:10-11].
Now may I read one other context in that word katallagē? One other place you will find Paul using it several times; in the fifth chapter of the second Corinthian letter, he will use it several times. Listen to it, “And all things are of God, who hath reconciled,” there it is again, “us to Himself by Jesus, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation,” there is the exact word again, reconciliation, “To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling,” there it is again, “the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation,” there it is again. “Now that we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God” [2 Corinthians 5:18-20] and there it is again.
So let us go back over here and let us look at that word, “If, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only so, but we rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have received,” and the word atonement simply means reconciliation [Romans 5:10-11]. The word everywhere else is translated “reconciliation,” the word “atonement.”
Well, where did they get that word atonement? I say it is one of the great words of the English language. It has come to have a tremendous theological significance. If you ever go to school and study systematic theology or biblical theology, one of the tremendous subjects that you will study will be the theology of the atonement. It has had a history in the theological word for two thousand years. And I suppose this room would hardly hold the books that have been written on that one word atonement, the atonement. Well, it means “reconciliation,” and it is translated “reconciliation” everywhere else that Paul uses it. But what did they mean by translating it “atonement” here? [Romans 5:11]. Well, it’s an interesting thing. That word atonement is built together out of two little simple words with a suffix. The word is a-t, “at”; o-n-e, “one”; and then the suffix, “ment”: at-one-ment.
Back yonder in 1611, when this Bible was translated, the word “reconciliation” and at-one-ment were synonyms. They meant the same things, at-one-ment. Here is a man and there is a man, and they differ, but when they are reconciled, they are “at one” again. And in the English language, that word came, at-one-ment, it came to mean “reconciliation.” At-one-ment and the English pronunciation of it, “atonement,” at-one-ment. The differences have been resolved; they are not angry any longer. They are no longer estranged, they are together; atonement has been made. At-one-ment has been accomplished; reconciliation between them has come to pass. And that’s the meaning of the word here. Now, may I read it once again?
For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.
And not only so, but we rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus, by whom we have received this reconciliation; by whom we have received this atonement.
Now, isn’t that a strange way of saying it? “Through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have received, we have received the atonement” [Romans 5:11]. Who is it reconciled? For whom is atonement made? Is the reconciliation on our part? Or is the reconciliation on God’s part? Who is it that is estranged? Who is it full of wrath and anger? Who is it that poses a tremendous judgment against those who have violated His holiness? Who is it that is atoned, propitiated, made favorable? Who is it that is reconciled?
Now when you answer that question, you are going to walk into a theological world. There are those who say the reconciliation is on the part of man. God doesn’t need to be reconciled. He is already reconciled, and I will speak to that in a moment. But into that theological world I don’t go; to me it is another word for infidelity and unbelief. I go into this theological world; according to the Scriptures here it says that “we receive that reconciliation” [Romans 5:11]. We receive that atonement. It is something done for us! And that means that the one who is atoned, the one who is propitiated, made favorable, the one who is reconciled is God! And the theological basis for that is this: that the one who is angry, and the one who is full of wrath, and the one who holds in His hand a terrible judgment upon those who have done wrong is God! In the presence of the justice, and the righteousness, and the burning, and the fire, and the judgment of Almighty God, all of the race is lost; all of the race is lost.
Now why is it that a lot of theologians pull away from that? Simply because they are not willing to admit that God is a God of wrath and must be propitiated [1 John 2:2]: that God is a God of justice, and sin must be atoned for [Romans 5:11]; that God is estranged from the human race and must be reconciled to the man who is lost [2 Corinthians 5:19]. The modern theologian refuses to accept that. But I do not know of a clearer revelation in God’s Book than this: that the wrath of God is at enmity, warring like a fire that burns against the sin of mankind [Romans 1:18]. And unless there is atonement made, propitiation made, all mankind shall fall into hell, into the bottomless pit where we stand condemned before the judgment of a holy and a righteous God [Revelation 20:11-15].
The reconciliation is in God—there has to be a basis of peace for God to accept a sinful man—God in His holiness, in His justice, in His purity, God in His heaven will not deign to accept a man in his guilt and in his sin, He will not! [Romans 8:8]. And the judgment of death is upon all that have sinned [Ezekiel 18:4, 20], and we have sinned [Romans 3:23]. There has to be a basis of peace, there has to be a basis of reconciliation between God who is offended and whose wrath burns against iniquity and all of us who are condemned in our sins [Ezekiel 18:4, 20]. And that reconciliation was made by the Lord Jesus Christ, and we receive it as a gift from God [2 Corinthians 5:19]. It is God who is reconciled, it is God who is atoned, it is God who is propitiated [Hebrews 9:26, 28]. It is God for whom some basis of peace had to be made in order for the Lord to forgive us our sins [Romans 5:1]. The atonement is in God, and we receive it as a gift from heaven [John 17:19; Hebrews 10:9-10].
What is a preacher? A preacher is none other somebody than a man who stands and proclaims to the world, “God is conciliated to man!” God is reconciled to sinful man; now sinful man, “Be ye reconciled to God! [2 Corinthians 5:20]. Accept from His hands forgiveness, reconciliation, atonement, salvation” [2 Corinthians 5:12-21]. That is what it is for a man to preach. He preaches that God has been reconciled, “Now come, receive from God’s hands that forgiveness, that reconciliation, that atonement” [2 Corinthians 5:20]. Not only so, but we rejoice in God. We exalt in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement [Romans 5:11]. Now I say when I go that way, I walk into an altogether different theological world than if I go that way.
So let us look just for a moment, for there is no way for you to learn God’s Book and God’s Word and God’s revelation; there is no way for you to learn it quite as effectively as to listen to the critic who objects to the things that we say God’s Word reveals. And then look at it; so we’re going to look at it tonight. The objection of the modern intellectual theologian to this preaching that I am preaching to you tonight: that it is God who is reconciled, that the atonement is in Him, that the reconciliation is in Him, that God’s wrath must somehow be propitiated lest we all die in His presence.
All right, the first objection: the first objection of the theologian, some of them to that is this; that that kind of a reconciliation, that kind of an atonement is altogether unnecessary. It is unnecessary. They say that God is already reconciled to mankind. They say that God is a God of love, God is a God of mercy, God is a God of patience, and longsuffering, and loving kindness. And all that a man has to do in order to be forgiven of his sins is to come to the Lord God in repentance, in contrition, in tears, and confess his sins to God. And a loving God will forgive him his sins and that is all that is necessary. You don’t need a cross, you don’t need Christ, you don’t need atonement. You don’t need the blood; you don’t need the agony of Gethsemane. God is a God of love. And if a man will repent, his tears, and his penance, and his confession will count for righteousness—that’s all it takes. That’s their first objection; this atonement on the cross by Jesus Christ is unnecessary.
All right what about that? What about that? If I know God’s Word at all; God’s Word is this: that no matter how much a man may cry, how much he may mourn, how long he may confess, how deep may be his own repentance; it is never enough. It never suffices for the covering up of the sin of his life. You cannot atone, make reconciliation, do propitiation before God by your tears, or crying, or confession, or repentences; it does not cover our sin [Hebrews 12:16-17].
The first story you read in the Bible is a parable of that, and it never changes all the way through. When our first parents sinned [Genesis 3:1-6], they knew that they were condemned and ashamed before God. And they made for themselves aprons of fig leaves and covered their nakedness [Genesis 3:7]. And when the Lord God saw them, they were ashamed, and abashed, and condemned, and guilty. They had transgressed, and they were lost!
“In the day that thou eat thereof thou shalt surely die” [Genesis 2:17]. And they died spiritually and later died physically. And they covered themselves with aprons of fig leaves, and the Lord looked upon it. And if what a man could do would suffice to the covering of his shame and his sin, God would have been delighted to walk with the man and his wife as they covered themselves with their fig leaves [Genesis 3:7]. But the Lord said, “It is not enough, it is not enough, it does not suffice.” And somewhere in the garden of Eden, He took an innocent animal and slew it, and that is the first pouring out of blood. He took an innocent animal and slew it, and the earth drank up its blood. And He made coats of skin to cover up the man and his wife [Genesis 3:21]. And the shedding of blood, for the remission of sins has been the same, same, same story and revelation of God through all of the centuries and through ages [Hebrews 9:22]. “The life is in the blood; and I have given it unto you for your souls, to make atonement for your souls” [Leviticus 17:11]. “When I see the blood, I will pass over you” [Exodus 12:13]. “It is the blood that maketh atonement for the soul” [Leviticus 17:11]. “It is the blood of the new covenant shed for the remission of sins” [Matthew 26:28]. “These are those, these are they who have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood, in the blood of the Lamb” [Revelation 7:14]. “Glory be to Him who hath redeemed us by His own blood” [Revelation 5:9]. There is never any deviation from that through all of the Word of God.
Well, why, preacher, why? Why is it that a sinful man cannot come before God, and by his tears, and by his repentance, and by his confession, why can’t he be saved? Why isn’t that enough, without the cross and without the death and the penalty of Jesus; why can’t it be? I will tell you exactly.
Here is a judge on the bench, and he is appointed to administer justice in the state. And the judge has a son, and he loves his son. And the son has transgressed and violated flagrantly a statute on the law books of the land. And the judge sits on the bench, and the boy, a culprit, stands in the presence of the judge, his own father. And the father loves the son, and the son weeps before the father, “I have sinned. I have done wrong. I have transgressed. I have, in cold blood, I have slain my friend.” And the boy is repentant, and he weeps, and he cries, and he confesses. Does that keep the judge from opening the statute book? If that judge lets that boy go, every citizen of the state would rise and say, “Justice has been violated!” Had it been some other [father’s] boy, he would have been sent to the electric chair, but in being his own son, justice is violated! Love and mercy in the heart of the father has overwhelmed his sense of what is right and just!
You could not have justice, nor could you have statutes, nor could you administer the law of the land, if by the boy’s tears and his penitence, he stood there and the guilty was set free. There are statutes in God’s Book, there are laws in God’s Book, there are judgments in God’s Book. And God says, “The soul that sins shall die!” [Ezekiel 18:4]. In the day that you sin, thou shalt surely die [Genesis 2:17]. How shall we live? By our tears? They never suffice. By our confessions? They never suffice. By our repenting? They are never sufficient. The law of God must be honored; it is blood, it is death, it is penalty. And in the penalty of Christ, in the death of the Lord Jesus, in the cruel blood of the cross, blood justice and God’s moral government is honored and upheld! [Acts 17:31]. And we are set-free because of our Substitute—the death, the suffering of our Savior who paid that price for us [Romans 5:8; 2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 John 2:2, 4:10].
All right, that leads to the second objection, “But preacher, what an irrational thing, what an irrational thing, what an unreasonable theology. Do you mean to stand in that pulpit and tell me—I who am a reasonable, rational man—are you trying to tell me that Jesus Christ took the penalty and the judgment of all of our sins and that in His death all of our sins were atoned for? The whole penalty was paid? Are you trying to say that?”
I am trying to say that! Then on what basis? This is the basis, this is the basis: on the basis, on the basis that Jesus is more than a man; on the basis that Jesus is God, our very God [John 20:28; Titus 2:13]. And on the basis that the death of the Lord Jesus was of infinite merit and of infinite value, and that the punishment, and the suffering, and the agony, and the death of the Son of God was equal to the penalty, the piled-up penalty of all of the judgments, upon all of the sins, of all of the people, of all of the world [1 John 2:2]. It has that merit and that value.
“Preacher, my soul, my soul, I don’t see that!”
Then may I illustrate it? Do it the same way that the Lord Jesus illustrated it [John 3:14-18]. In the camp of Israel, the people were dying; they were bitten by fiery serpents [Numbers 21:5-6]. They had transgressed the law of God, and the Lord sent—did you hear that? God sent, the Lord sent, it was a judgment upon the people [Numbers 21:6]. The Lord sent fiery serpents, and they bit the people, and the people were dying. And they cried to Moses saying, “What shall we do, and how shall we live, for we are bitten by these fiery serpents, and we are dying” [Numbers 21:7]. And God said to Moses, “Take a brazen serpent, take a serpent of brass and raise it in the center of the camp, and it shall be that if a man is bitten by the serpent, if he will look, he will live” [Numbers 21:8].
Why didn’t God say to Moses, “Moses, take a serpent, a dead serpent, and put him on a pole in the midst of the camp.” Had Moses done that—killed one of those venomous, fiery, tenuous poisonous things, slain one of those things and put it on a pole and raise it up in the midst of the camp—had Moses done that, it would have been just another snake that deserved to die. It would have been there just as a reminder how many other snakes there were that were still alive. But the Lord God said to Moses, “Moses, make a representative snake, a representative snake—dead, limp, with its fangs extracted—and raise it up on a pole in the midst of the camp.” It represents the death of sin. It represents all that sin could ever do to hurt and destroy. It has been destroyed itself! There it is on the pole, limp, lifeless, dead, its fangs extracted—the representative. And in the looking in the faith that it would heal, a man bitten by the serpent could be saved [Numbers 21:9].
The Lord Jesus Christ is not just another man. He is not just one of us. He is not a man who deserved to die for His own sin. The Lord Jesus Christ—and the rest of this chapter is about that—is the representative man, He is the head of the spiritual race [Ephesians 1:22-23, Colossians 1:29]. As Adam is the head of the natural man, and in him we die, so Christ is the head of the spiritual man, and in Him, we live [1 Corinthians 15:22, 45]. And that spiritual Man, the head of the race, the representative Man, the Man without spot or blemish [1 Peter 1:19], God our very God [John 20:28; Titus 2:13], He was made to be sin for us [2 Corinthians 5:21]. He took upon Him all of the wrath, and all of the judgment, and all of the penalty of all of our sins. He gathered it in Himself, and on the cross [Matthew 27:32-50], He died our death, He paid our penalty [1 Corinthians 15:3; 2 Corinthians 5:21]. If He was just another snake that died, if He was just another man that was crucified, if He was just another somebody that deserved to die for His own sin, then there is no atonement made, and we are still lost. But Jesus Christ was God! [John 20:28]. And in the merit of His atoning grace and in the efficacy of His blood and His suffering and His death, there is virtue enough; there is strength, power, efficacy enough to make atonement, to pay the price for the judgment upon all of the sin of all of the world [1 John 2:2]. It isn’t I that could die, nor anybody else that could die; I just deserve to die for my own sin, and every other man would deserve to die for His own sin. But in Christ, God died. God died. Infinitude—infinity; the God, the very God [John 20:28; Titus 2:13]—He died [1 Corinthians 15:3], and in that death, atonement was made for all of the wrath, all of the judgments, all of the sin of all of the world [Hebrews 2:9; 1 John 2:2]. It depends upon who Jesus is. If He was a man, it is irrational. If He is God—oh, my soul! What does it mean for God to die for the world? [John 3:16; Hebrews 10:5-14].
Another: “Preacher, that thing is an incredible mystery. I don’t understand it; therefore, I can’t accept it.” “I not only saw, but we rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement” [Romans 5:11]. Received the atonement, “Preacher, it is an incredible, an incredible mystery. I can’t accept it. I can’t believe it. It’s beyond me. I don’t see. I can’t grasp. I don’t understand. It’s too deep for me. I can’t accept it.”
That granted—the atonement of Christ, the propitiation of the wrath of God in Christ, the assumption of the suffering of all of our sins in Christ, the atoning death of our Savior equal to all of the penalty of all of the sins of the world [1 John 2:2]—it is granted, it is an incredible mystery. No man can grasp it. No man can fathom it. No man can understand it. But my brother, it doesn’t have to be a barrier to faith because it is beyond a man’s rational, intellectual grasp. Because I cannot enter into its final secret, because I cannot stand in this pulpit and explain it fully, is no barrier to the fact of its reality, of its power, of its great virtue and efficacy. After all, it is just a part of the whole pattern of the revelation of God that I see all around me. There is no part of God, nor anything that God has done that, ultimately, my poor finite mind can ever completely grasp or contain. It’s all a mystery around me. But that does not mean it is any less real, and it doesn’t mean it is a barrier to faith.
Tell me; is not everything around you a mystery beyond our grasp? Isn’t it? No man can reach it and encompass it—the starry skies above us, these universes that float in space—is there a man that could stand up here in this pulpit and say, “Brothers and sisters, listen to me. I will explain to you the mystery of the universe. I know where it came from. I know where it is going! I know its yesteryear, and I know its destiny, floating out there in the Milky Way, floating out there through the sidereal hemispheres, floating out there into the infinitude, and we among them. Solve that mystery, I cannot enter into it. It is God’s—a part of God— I cannot enter into the mystery of anything God does. Those flowers; where were they hidden down there in a little seed? Where did they come from? What made that stem grow and turn green, and the caliph open and on the inside that little bud? And who painted the petals that golden yellow? And who dipped His pen in emerald and painted those beautiful leaves? Where did it come from and how did it grow? I can’t see, I can’t grasp, I can’t get it. It is just one thing again in the hands of Almighty God.
And my soul, my spirit, on the inside of me, who made it? What makes it live? Love? Feel? Desire? Want? Long? Remember? Who is “I”? Where did “I” come from? This mystery on the inside of the house that’s called you; how do you enter into it? How do you explain it? Where did we come from? Who created us? What of our future and our destiny? What of the tomorrow? And I live like that. My every day is like that. Everything I touch is like that. The whole world is like that. Finally, how can I enter into the secret of the personality of God? Where did He come from? He always was, and I can’t understand it. And how is it that He made out of nothing this universe? By fiat, He said it and there it is [Genesis 1:1-23]. I cannot grasp it. I just worship in His presence.
So with the mystery of the atonement of the Son of God; you’re not talking about a man when you’re talking about Jesus. You’re talking about God. God the very God [John 20:28; Titus 2:13], the God who made this world and who created us [John 1:1-3; Colossians 1:16], we are talking about Him.
For when we were yet without strength . . . Christ died for the ungodly.
For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet maybe for a good man some would dare to die.
But God commended His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us, in my stead.
As a king may die for his people, as a soldier may fight your battle and die on the battlefield, as a chief may lay down his life for his clan; so Christ, God’s Son and God our very God [John 3:16, Titus 2:13], so Christ died for us [1 Corinthians 15:3]. “Being now justified by His blood, we shall be saved from God’s wrath, God’s penalty against sin, through Him. For if. . . we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only so, but we rejoice in God,” we exalt in God, “through the Lord Jesus Christ, by whom now we have received that atonement” [Romans 5:9-11].
What lies back of it? What was the love that prompted Jesus to come into this world? What was the passion that moved His soul when He volunteered to pay the penalty for our sins, and to die in our stead? [Hebrews 10:5-14; John 12:27]. How do you enter into its mysteries? How do you search out and discover its secret? To do it would be to understand the heart of God. I just see a little reflection of it just once in a while.
Like this: sitting in the midst of a great group, of half-naked—so darkened, mind filled with superstition and ignorance—sitting in the midst of a great group of half-naked savages; black men and women in the heart of Africa, sitting there looking up at a young man who is standing on a little platform, and he is talking to them of the work of God, under his hand, as he ministers in the capacity of a beloved physician. And I listen to him, and I hear his report, and I listen to his talk. And the man seated next to me, the head of our foreign mission board, whispers in my ear, “You see that young doctor? He was offered fifteen thousand dollars a year to begin with, if he would join a big medical clinic on the Eastern seaboard. Instead, at a salary of a thousand dollars a year, he came over here to Africa to be our missionary, to minister to these diseased bodies of these half-naked savages.” And I look at him, and see him stand there, what made him do it? What made him do it? Why? The last time I got a report on him, he was sick. The climate there, and the disease and filth of the people there finally was too much for his body. And he’s sick, he’s sick tonight. What made him do it? Well, that’s a little piece of the heart of God.
What prompted Him to come? What made Him volunteer for us? [Hebrews 10:5-14]. What sent Him to the cross to die in our stead? [Philippians 2:6-8]. Why? Why? A little of it, you’ll see in a great sacrifice that somebody makes for somebody they love.
Last week at White Rock Lake, they found a body of a mother and a little later, her son. Nobody knows how it was. They were drowned in the water. But the chances are that mother saw her son struggling for life in waters out of which he couldn’t swim, and in her attempt to save his life, she lost her own. That’s a little piece of the heart of God. If we ever could enter into its final mysteries, we’d be like the saints of glory who say on the courts on the golden streets, “All glory, and honor, and wisdom, and power be unto Him [Revelation 5:12] who loved us, and gave Himself for us [Galatians 2:20], who redeemed us out of our sins by His own blood [1 Peter 1:18-19; Revelation 5:9]; and hath made us kings and priests unto God our Father” [Revelation 5:10], and with Him we shall live and reign forever, and ever, and ever” [Revelation 22:3-5].
Oh, to exalt with Paul in God through our Lord Jesus Christ by whom we have received the atonement; the gift of God in Christ Jesus [Romans 5:11]. Our sin is paid for, washed away in His death for us, for us, for us [1 John 1:7; Revelation 1:5]. That’s what it is to be saved; He did it, He did it, He did it [Titus 3:5]. And we receive in love, in gratitude from His precious, nail-pierced hands. O God! All glory to Thee; You did it, You did it. We’re going to sing. Would you mind changing it? Would you mind singing:
There is a fountain filled with blood
Drawn from Immanuel’s veins
And sinners plunged beneath that flood…
[“There is a Fountain Filled with Blood,” William Cowper]
Number 48, number 48, “There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood,” and while we sing the song, somebody tonight who in faith will give his heart and life to the Lord Jesus [Romans 10:9-13; Ephesians 2:8], would you come and stand by me? “Pastor, here I am, and here I come, the best I know how, my humble best. I open my heart to the Lord Jesus, and I make it now. I make it now.” And down here to join the church by confession of faith, by baptism [Matthew 28:19], by letter, a family, or one somebody you; while we make appeal, tonight would you come? Would you come? While we stand and while we sing.