It may be asked of me, “Do I believe that the sufferings of Christ, as sufferings, justified the supreme ruler in doing anything which he would not have been at liberty to do but for those sufferings?” I do not. I believe the notion as unworthy of man’s belief as it is dishonoring to God. It has its origin doubtless in a salutary sense of sin; but sense of sin is not inspiration, though it may lie not far from the temple door. It is indeed an opener of the eyes, but upon home-defilement, not upon heavenly truth; it is not the revealer of secrets. Also, there is another factor in the theory, and that is unbelief—incapacity to believe that it is God’s chosen nature to forgive, that he is bound in his own divinely willed nature to forgive. No atonement is necessary to him but that men should leave their sins and come back to his heart. But men cannot believe in the forgiveness of God. Therefore they need, therefore he has given them a mediator. And yet they will not know him. They think of the father of souls as if he had abdicated his fatherhood for their sins, and assumed the judge. If he put off his fatherhood, which he cannot do, for it is an eternal fact, he puts off with it all relation to us. He cannot repudiate the essential and keep the resultant. Men cannot, or will not, or dare not see that nothing but his being our father gives him any right over us.
The Suffering of Christ
by Stephen Carney
“Do I believe that the sufferings of Christ, as sufferings, justified the supreme ruler in doing something which he would not have been at liberty to do but for those sufferings? I do not.” So writes MacDonald in his sermon on “Justice.” His point is well taken. The sufferings of Jesus did not move God to do something for us that he wouldn’t have done otherwise. It was already in the heart of God to redeem his fallen creation. He was always working his forgiveness upon his creatures. It wasn’t God who needed something to change his attitude towards us, but rather we who needed to see God as we had never seen him before.
Jesus said, “When I am lifted up, I will draw all men unto Me.” One aspect of what Christ’s suffering did was to lift him up before mankind and to compellingly draw the attention of all towards him. Jesus was there already because of the love of God the Father. God sent him to get our attention and to save us, as MacDonald says, not in our sins but from our sins. This drawing is the first step toward bringing man into what MacDonald calls At-One-Ment with the Father, and Christ’s suffering came about because God was drawing us to himself through Jesus. Jesus came to call people to follow him, to love God, and to love one another, and he demonstrated that through healing the sick, raising the dead, and by caring for and feeding those in need. All this demonstrated God’s love for us, and it is what the religious leaders, whose hearts were still in darkness, could not understand, and it is why they had him crucified. It is interesting to note that John’s Gospel tells us that it was after the raising of Lazarus from the dead that they plotted Jesus’ execution. He suffered because he was expressing the love of God for mankind, not because it satisfied something in God that would make him want to forgive man.
One cannot read the Psalms without learning that God was always willing to forgive man, and, as David says, “For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; You are not pleased with burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” Apparently, David thought that God isn’t pleased by burnt offerings, but by a broken and contrite heart. It is interesting to note that the Old Testament sacrifices required man to bring the first and best of his flock to sacrifice; in other words, it would cost man something to make his sacrifice to God. It should be costly enough to break a mans heart. One cannot but help think of Abraham sacrificing his only son, a heart-breaking sacrifice. One begins to see that sacrifice was for man’s benefit, and not for God’s. When we use this view to look at the sacrifice of Christ upon the cross, we begin to see that God sent his best to us as one of us. Jesus was the true first-born, the spotless lamb, and the best of anyone who ever walked the earth. He was the best among us, and it was us who sacrificed him. Pilate could find no fault in him, nor could anyone else. He was perfect, so we offered him up as a sacrifice.
I am not sure that sin in us hasn’t made us despise the perfect. Our imperfection seems to want to destroy the spotless. Like a child who sees a perfectly built tower of blocks must walk over and immediately knock it down. But all this shows that it is man who must repent, who must have a broken heart over his actions. If this is true about Jesus death, then we should see that mankind should become broken over the death of the innocent if he or she will truly ever repent. And it is what we do see in the Book of Acts as Peter delivers his sermon after the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. Peter speaks on the Messiahship of Jesus, and ends his message with the words, “Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ-this Jesus whom you crucified.’” And the response is telling, “Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?” Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Notice, that it is their brokenness over what they had done to Jesus that brings them to the forgiveness of God.
Finally, I would say that God through the suffering of Christ shows us his great love for us. In the midst of the Crucifixion Jesus says, “Father, forgive them. For they do not know what they are doing.” Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, death itself is conquered and rendered powerless over us. Jesus died, “once for all, the Just for the unjust that He might bring us to God.” Death would keep us from eternal life but God has conquered that through Christ and we have become invincible in him. “Whoever lives and believes in Me, will live even if he dies.” Jesus said. The early church did not fear physical death, because they knew they were invincible in Christ. Somehow, the death of the innocent Christ broke the power of death and it’s effect upon us. It wasn’t to satisfy something in the heart of God, but to accomplish something in the redemption of mankind. It is what a father would do for his children, and certainly what our true Father would and has done for us.