Justice then requires that sin should be put an end to; and not that only, but that it should be atoned for; and where punishment can do anything to this end, where it can help the sinner to know what he has been guilty of, where it can soften his heart to see his pride and wrong and cruelty, justice requires that punishment shall not be spared. The more we believe in God, the surer we shall be that he will spare nothing that suffering can do to deliver his child from death. If suffering cannot serve this end, we need look for no more hell, but for the destruction of sin by the destruction of the sinner. That, however, would be for God to suffer defeat, blameless indeed, but defeat.
If God be defeated, he must destroy—that is, he must withdraw life. How can he go on sending forth his life into irreclaimable souls, to keep sin alive in them throughout the ages of eternity? But then, no atonement would be made for the wrongs they have done; God remains defeated, for he has created that which sinned, and which would not repent and make up for its sin. But those who believe that God will thus be defeated by many souls, must surely be of those who do not believe he cares enough to do his very best for them. He is their Father; he had power to make them out of himself, separate from himself, and capable of being one with him: surely he will somehow save and keep them! Not the power of sin itself can close all the channels between creating and created.
Justice From The Heart Of God
by Stephen Carney
God desires to deliver us from death, and, as we cannot deliver ourselves, it is God who takes the initiative to bring us out of the dust of death. He is a strong deliverer and has so worked atonement that he can deliver us, not just from death and sin, but especially from ourselves. I say from ourselves as we have cooperated so willingly with sin and death that, though we often long to be free from their clutches, we sometimes find ourselves more on their side fighting against our freedom and against the God who would free us. But, he who is “able to do above all that we ask or think,” will be unrelenting in our rescue. His unbreakable love will use every means at his disposal to bring us complete justice and deliverance. As MacDonald says, “sin must have an end to it” and God will use even suffering, as a doctor uses surgery, if it will bring an end to sin and death.
How can God achieve this? He achieves it by doing the actual work of atonement, which is the work of reconciliation. To reconcile man, God needed to bring us to a point of being reconciled over sin and it's effects. It is three-fold:
First, the bringing of us to safe place within God himself, and we knowing that we are free so that we might willingly go there. This the first work of atonement, that is, the love of God demonstrated by the fact that God takes the first steps toward us and breaks down the barrier that sin has created. As the Scripture says, “Herein is the love of God; not that we first loved Him, but that He first loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” God comes down first and calls us to himself. If it was the mere fact that atonement only involved the death of Jesus, well then why didn't God just allow Herod to kill Jesus as soon as he was born? But atonement is not just about the death on the cross it's about our life in God through Christ. It is us seeing the love of God demonstrated through the life of Jesus. It is us seeing him be kind to sinners, to tax collectors, prostitutes, and thieves. It is watching him bless children and heal the sick, even bringing Lazarus back from the dead. It is also hearing him speak words like, “Come unto Me all you that are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” All this encourages us, and allows us to gain courage by believing that God isn't angry with us, or against us, but rather that he is for us and our healing. The whole life of Jesus teaches us this and is as much a part of bringing us to the At-One-Ment that MacDonald speaks of.
Second, atonement upon the cross is about the conquering of death and sin. The early church always saw in the death and resurrection of Jesus the destruction of death. “O grave where is your victory? O death where is your sting?” The effect of sin was death, and in the resurrection of Jesus, the effect is removed as sin cannot kill that which is sinless. Sin can only destroy itself and it's own, but it could not destroy him “who knew no sin.” It has been said, “He could have called ten thousand angels,” but he didn't need to, for sin was powerless against him. Yes, it could temporarily kill the physical body of Jesus, but as our Lord said, “If I lay this body down, I will take it up again.” This sense of indestructibility is made available to us through the love of God in Christ, and we too become indestructible. The early martyrs felt this as they withstood persecution. They knew their lives were eternal. Now the words of Jesus ring in our ears, “He who lives and believes in me will live even if he dies.” We cannot be destroyed, for the “victory is won.”
Finally, all of the above brings us into a relationship with the Father that allows him to work within us. He “demands truth in the innermost being,” says David. And the working of that truth to set us free is the third part of this At-One-Ment. It is the banishing of sin itself within us, as it is being banished without. Sin can only go so far before it destroys itself and it's days are numbered. But the freeing of us from the lies and destruction that sin has created in our lives is the goal of God for us. It is the Father's good pleasure of bringing his children home safe and sound.