Full audiences of brethren and sisters, whose hearts and minds were bent toward the achievement of unity, were deeply appreciative of an address entitled “The Atonement”, given by Brother Carter in several states. Reproduced here is the address, which, while lifting consideration of the nature and sacrifice of Christ to a higher spiritual plane, made clear by appeal to both heart and intellect the doctrinal issues involved.

The Atonement

By John Carter

Delivered in Malvern Town Hall (Melbourne), 1958.

Dear Brethren and Sisters, You have already been reminded that this is a subject that has been the occasion of controversy in our midst. It is not a peculiarity of our Body, for the history of Christendom reveals that the subject has been a source of strife and dissention through the ages. It might seem futile therefore, that we should ever attempt to contribute something by way of a help towards an understanding of a subject that must, of itself, be beset with a certain amount of difficulty, and yet withal, this subject is vital to our standing. We believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. We believe that in him, God raised up a son in order that we might be saved. We have come to recognise by a knowledge of the Truth that we are mortal men and women; and that apart from Christ Jesus there is no hope of the future; and that future will be realised by a resurrection from the dead when he comes again.

We recognise that Jesus Christ was the Son of God; and we must give due place for that. At the same time, we recognise that the doctrine of the trinity is one that is not found in the pages of the Bible. The twin errors of the doctrine of the trinity and the immortality of the soul, which have beset and entangled the paths of those who have sought to expound this doctrine in the orthodox churches, is one from which we ourselves are free. We can come to the subject with an understanding of the basic facts, that we are mortal because of sin, and that in Jesus Christ we have one whom God raised up to save His people from their sins. Among the first things that the Apostle Paul preached when he went to Corinth was, that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures. “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins,” said the Apostle in his letter to the Ephesians, and so on in numberless passages that could be quoted.

This subject affects us closely. It may indeed be, in beginning our life in the Truth, sufficient that we understand the basic facts connected with this work of Jesus Christ, but as we grow older in the Truth, we naturally want to know some things connected with the how and why God did this work in Christ Jesus.

We are entering into a discussion and a consideration of God’s ways, which are higher than our ways and His thoughts are higher than our thoughts. Yet so far as He has revealed them, it is our duty to seek humbly and patiently to follow wherein He has revealed.

We would say that, among the primary things for the student in this field, there should be a humility of mind; teachableness from the word of God. For the presence of arrogance is something that can befoul our thinking and hinder us from the right appreciation of the Word of God.

The Pattern Student was the Lord Jesus Christ himself, who spoke of God opening his ears and he was not disobedient. He listened to the counsel of God and sought in all his ways to serve Him. So it is with regard to those that are at last redeemed; it is written in the prophets: “They shall all be taught of God,” and it is as humble students of the Word of God that we come together tonight, to see if we can by looking at some of the passages of scripture, wherein God has spoken of these wondrous ways in Christ Jesus for our redemption, we might appreciate a little the more what God has done for us in His beloved son.

A right understanding of words

The words of scripture bound up with this subject are such that we ought to try to ascertain their meanings. Words are used as the instrument of thought and of course it is important that we have a right understanding of words. There are a great number of words bound up with this subject. We are not going to traverse them all, but we do want to suggest to you, that a comprehensive examination of this subject would involve a whole series of studies, of the meanings and usages of words. Such for example, “redemption” and its cognate word “ransom”, with the related term of “Bought”. There are the words “enmity” and “alienation” and their counterparts “reconciled” and “forgiven”. There is the word “righteousness” and the related words, although they come from another root in English, “justification”, “justify”, and “just”. There is the word “sanctification”, and the word “propitiation”, and we come to the series of terms that are used in connection with the work of Jesus in relation to our sins, such as “bearing our sins”, “bearing our sins in his body to the tree”; “he suffered for sins”; “the remission of sins”. We have the series of terms used as descriptive of the work of the Lord himself, such as the phrase, “The blood of Christ” where we must think beyond the literal and think of what is meant by “the blood of Christ”, as the token of the sacrifice of Christ. Then we must go forward again and ask of what did his sacrifice consist? Why was it necessary? We have the phrases related to the “offering of the body of Jesus once and for all” and the phrase “laying down his life”. We have the phrase “the sacrifice of Christ” and we are told “that Christ died for us”. Now here are a whole range of words, and we have not gathered them all together by any means; every one of which ought to receive careful consideration before we enter the lists as disputants in such a doctrine as this. I am quite sure that a patient examination of these words would make us a little the more humble in our study of the scriptures; and a little more patient of the shortcoming of others in their understanding. It would increase a greater diligence in ourselves, that we be sure that we understand rightly the words that are used.

Reconciliation

Now the word “atonement” occurs once in the Bible, and there it is a word related to “reconciliation”. In fact, the word which Paul used which is translated “atonement” in one passage of the Bible, is translated “reconciliation” in the rv. But let us look at that verse at the beginning of our examination of this subject. In Romans Chapter 5, you will find that many of the phrases that we have already cited as pertaining to this subject are mentioned. Reading in the 6th verse, “when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly”. “For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commended his ‘own’ (RV) love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, 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. And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we reconciliation is, that we who were enemies might be made friends and brought into harmony with God. In order that this might be done, we have been the subjects of justification, whatever that might be, as we come to examine it a little later. What we want to emphasise first of all is that reconciliation has to do with a relationship between individuals. In this case between ourselves, as sinners, and God.

Alienated by sin

Now we must come to the question, “Why is it that, as sinners, we are alienated from God? What is sin?” Now the Apostle tells us something about sin in the next verse to what we have read, in the 12th verse of Romans Ch. 5. He is beginning a series of comparisons between Adam and the results of his sin; and Christ and the result of his work of obedience. Here he states the foundation upon which he is going to reason out this work of God in Christ. “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned,” and then in the characteristic way of Paul, he drops into a parenthesis and does not resume it until the 18th verse; when he takes up the word “therefore”. “Therefore,” as by this so something else in connection with Christ Jesus.

But first of all let us look at this basis, this “Wherefore as by this” before we come to consider, “so that” as to what. “Wherefore as by one man”, and Paul has four affirmations in this verse, “As by one man sin entered into the world; secondly, that death came through sin; thirdly, that death passed through to all men; and fourthly, for that all have sinned.” In this connection let us say quite firmly, that the marginal reference, “in whom” is not permissible as a translation. The Apostle is saying, one, that Adam sinned; secondly, that death entered the world of mankind as a result of his sin; thirdly, that all of us share in that death which has come into the world as his descendants, with the added point that all of us, as a consequence of that sin in the beginning, are ourselves sinners.

Sin – its inception

What is sin? Sin is defined by John in the AV translation, as transgression of law (1 John 3:4). More profoundly, and in keeping with the words of Paul, the revisers have given us, “Sin is lawlessness.” We go back to the beginning, to the time when sin entered into the world, in the light of that interpretation, and we think of Adam and Eve made very good, though of the dust of the ground. They were placed on probation, because, that by virtue of their constitution, they were reasoning beings and moral beings. Because of that they had the capacity to respond to right or wrong. Because of their very mental and moral constitution, with their consequent personal relationship to God, made in the image of God, it was necessary that law should be given. God told them that of every tree of the garden they may freely eat; but said that if they disobeyed they should surely die.

Now doubt entered the woman’s mind through the suggestion of the serpent, and it is interesting to observe, in the detailed accuracy of the record which we have in the scriptures throughout, that the woman trimmed as the result of doubt entering her mind. She dropped the word “freely”, making God a little arbitrary. No longer was it “of every tree we may freely eat” but “of every tree we may eat.” But she also dropped the word “surely” concerning the certainty of the consequences, and so we can see how doubt assails the mind; a trimming of the word of God and then a reaching out for that which is forbidden. Adam partook with her of the forbidden fruit and we behold this man and woman, who before had sweet and free converse with God, now become aware of a sense of shame and fear. They hide themselves from God, and are themselves aware of the necessity of covering themselves. We know how God repudiated their own devices for their covering; and substituted that which he himself provided in the covering of skins; but we mustn’t go into the typology of that at the present time. But sufficient to notice that they experienced a sense of shame and the sentence was passed that “dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return”. Here death came, as the Apostle says, into the world through sin.

All sinners but one

But by and by children are born. What is it that they inherit? This nature related to death, that had now become the lot of Adam and his wife. How could it be otherwise? But something else is evident: there is a bias in their nature inherited too; and we see in the offspring of the first pair, one who pursues righteousness and one who thought evil and who murdered his brother. It is a melancholy fact that the Apostle testifies that the whole race are transgressors before God. In the opening chapter of his letter to the Romans, Paul indicted the Gentile world of all their abominable practices, in which he three times said, “God has given them up to their own devices.” It is a law of God. God gives them up to their own devices, with an ever overwhelming calamity of evil, until at last at the very climax of it the Apostle says “they not only do evil but rejoice in them that do it”. Was the Jewish world any better? Not a bit; although they had the law, they by it, only became more acutely aware of the fact that they were sinners. The Apostle says that all the world is guilty before God. “All have sinned and come short of the Glory of God,” and that is the result of transgression in Eden. “All have sinned”: there is one blessed exception, but it needed the work of God in raising up a saviour, to produce a man among men who was sinless.

The deceitfulness of sin

But let us think a little further about sin. I wonder if we have given sufficient attention to it. Sin leaves its mark upon the individual. If anyone of us sin, it leaves its mark upon us. A man may be guilty of a little sharp practice in his business and he experiences a sense of shame. But the second time he does it, the shame is not so keen and after repeated acts he comes at last to rationalise, as modem psychologists describe it. He rationalises the process and justifies, what, at the beginning caused him a sense of shame. Thus it is that we sometimes behold the spectacle of a man who was once upright in his dealings, gradually falling away from the standard of right until at last we read of him being in the court, having been guilty of some serious embezzlement or some other crime. But it’s been by a gradual decline in many cases, through the lowering of a standard; and instead of a consciousness of sin, very often that man only manifests self pity.

Why is it? It is because sin has a peculiarly blinding effect upon us. Sin distorts the view of righteousness. Sin deceives. The Apostle speaks of the deceitfulness of sin and in a very striking figure he can even say: “that Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light”; that so deceiving is sin, that he can even parade as righteousness. But here is one of the dire consequences that comes with sin, that the more a man becomes familiar with it as performing and yielding himself to it, so he becomes less aware of the real character of sin. It is one of the most striking of the moral laws of God, that the more a man knows of sin the less he is aware of what it is.

Sin as part of the man

Here, brethren and sisters, is one of the secondary problems, and a very real one, bound up with the fact of sin. William James in one of his books, tells the story of a man who had repeatedly given way to drink, and he repeatedly said as he yields once more, “I will not count this one.” And James comments: “he may not and a merciful heaven may not, but the cells of his brain are recording every lapse and every lapse that comes makes the next one easier.” Which means that sin, in its out-working, becomes at last a part of the individual himself. So that when we come to the question of the forgiveness of sins we must face the problem: how can sin be forgiven when it has become a part of the individual himself, and it is the expression of what the man has become? When we see the enormity of sin as it is revealed for us in the Bible, we begin to appreciate what a terrible problem it is; how many that are sinners can be reconciled to God.

Sin blinds the eyes

There are one or two passages of scripture that we would like to quote in this connection. We turn to 1 John, chapter 2 and verse 11. Reading from verse 9 for the connection: “He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now. He that loveth his brother abideth in the light and there is none occasion of stumbling in him. But he that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness”, and mark this “and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes”. There you have, in stark, simple language, an annunciation of the fact, that sin can so distort the vision that at last a man is disabled from seeing. What can you do to break in to such a bondage as that?

But Isaiah has said much the same thing before. Will you turn to Isaiah chapter 44. Here is an indictment of idolatry. Derisively the prophet pictures a man choosing a tree of some good wood, cutting it down, engaging a carpenter to make for him an image; and he uses the remainder of the chippings to light a fire to warm himself and to bake his bread. He said in verse 18, “they have not known nor understood: for He hath shut their eyes, that they cannot see; and their hearts that they cannot understand.” Here is the expression of that law of God to which we have referred. These men were going in darkness and could not discern the fact that they were so walking “and none,” saith the prophet, “considereth in his heart, neither is there knowledge nor understanding to say, I have burnt part of it in the fire; yea also I have baked bread upon the coals thereof; I have roasted flesh and eaten it; and shall I make the residue thereof an abomination? Shall I fall down to the stock of a tree?” The Divine comment is, “He feedeth on ashes: a deceived heart hath turned him aside that he cannot deliver his soul, nor say, Is there not a lie in my right hand?” He cannot deliver his soul neither can he discern that a lie is in his right hand.

Paul’s internal struggle

These passages and these considerations are by no means exhausted; but help us to appreciate what is involved in sin in its dire effects upon ourselves; and as affecting our relationship to the Almighty. There is, perhaps, nowhere in the scriptures a greater piece of poignant biography than what we have in the 7th chapter of the letter to the Romans, where the Apostle, examining himself, speaks of his efforts after righteousness and his failure to attain it. He came to know the Truth and was conscious of a conflict within himself, so that the things that he would do he failed to perform, and the things that he would not do, he did. He cried out in his anguish; “O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?”

A criticism must be levelled here against some interpretations. The Roman Catholics, for example, assert that the Apostle was guilty of some carnal sin and he was here referring to it. Others explain it as having reference to Paul before he came into contact with Christ. Some have expressed a doubt how the Apostle, so earnest and righteous a man, could thus speak. But here we get the inverse of that of which we spoke when we said: sin blinded the eyes. It is the man who seeks after righteousness who is the most acutely aware of his shortcomings. Thus you have the apparent paradox, that a man who seems to stand high above his fellows in his zeal for righteousness and the holiness of his walk can yet bemoan the fact that he is the chief of sinners. But it is in perfect harmony with what we find to be the facts, concerning sin and its effects.

But before we leave this subject I want to comment on a usage of words. The Apostle in this 7th chapter of Romans, verse 20, speaks of sin that dwelleth in him. “Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. For I know that in me (that is in my flesh), dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.” What is it that is within us, that the Apostle describes as sin? Clearly there are the impulses that lead to sin. There are impulses there that are the result of sin at the beginning, which we have by inheritance. But if we may here turn aside to the use of grammatical terms, in order that we might define the matter; in what way is sin used here? Sin is lawlessness. Sin is the expression of ourselves in defiance of the will of God, either in thought or act.

Metonymy applied to sin

But how could Paul speak of these impulses which were latent in him, which sprang to life as he said, when the commandment came? How can he speak of them as sin? By a well known figure of speech; the figure of speech of metonymy is that where a word which stands related to another as cause or effect, or a mere adjunct maybe, is put for that to which it stands related. And sometimes we find brethren speaking of two aspects of sin. It might be permissible to use the phrase, providing it is understood. But I want to enter here and now a mild caveat against the use of that phrase, “two aspects of sin.” There are not two aspects of sin, there are many aspects of sin. Sin is what? Well you have a list of the works of the flesh; Adultery and all the abominations with a list of other things such as illwill, bitterness, wrath, anger, strife, sedition and so on. All these are aspects of sin. They are all aspects of something that comes within the one category.

But now the Apostle uses sin by Metonymy and immediately you say, he uses it by metonymy it isn’t an aspect of sin. It’s a use of the word in another sense, used by a figure. Let me give you one or two illustrations: you have aspects of a mountain, you look at it from one vantage point and you look at it from another vantage point and you see different aspects of it. But you speak of a man’s troubles and you say: he makes mountains out of molehills. Would you say that a man’s troubles was an aspect of mountains? No! You would say by a figure of speech, as describing his troubles as mountains; but they are not an aspect of mountains. In a similar way we turn to another figure, the figure of metaphor. The Lord said, “this is my body.” The Roman Catholic insists upon it in its literal terms and insists that the bread is the body of Jesus. We say No! That is the use of metaphor. “All flesh is grass” is metaphor. “All flesh is as grass” is the figure simile. The figure simile is literally true. Figure metaphor is boldly true though not literally accurate. Jesus said “this is my body” but would you say that there are two aspects of the body of Jesus, one of flesh and one of flour? Because “all flesh is grass” would you say that there are two aspects of grass; one with roots and the other with legs? You say No! One is used as a figure and one is an expression of a literal fact. So it is with regard to this. We mustn’t preach sin that dwells in us, which is a word used metonymically for the impulses within us, as being sin in that sense of lawlessness of which the Apostle speaks. I think that if we can get that clear in our minds, we are getting rid of some of the problems that have beset us in connection with this. I have here several illustrations from the scriptures of the use of metonymy, but my time is going quicker than I am with my address. But don’t forget that we use metonymy in our ordinary speech and sometimes do not recognise it.

I had a very happy journey into the country with two brethren and as we passed a house, which had been built by the chemist who made Aspro popular, they said: that house is built on Aspro. You don’t think of foundations of Aspro on which the house is built. You mean, that house was built by the profits that were made from the sales of Aspro. By metonymy, you say it was built on Aspro. We use it in ordinary speech but we use our commonsense in the understanding of it.

Now let us press on. If Sin is such as we have seen, what can the remedy be? Now let us think first of all, that sin is in itself a challenge to God. Adam said, I am going to do my way, when he had an obligation to do God’s way and, as the result of man’s sin, he introduced a duality into God’s universe and God’s supremacy was challenged. What else could God do under those circumstances than impose death, if He is going to maintain His supremacy. We might think about that but we cannot extend it.

Now let us press on. If Sin is such as we have seen, what can the remedy be? Now let us think first of all, that sin is in itself a challenge to God. Adam said, I am going to do my way, when he had an obligation to do God’s way and, as the result of man’s sin, he introduced a duality into God’s universe and God’s supremacy was challenged. What else could God do under those circumstances than impose death, if He is going to maintain His supremacy. We might think about that but we cannot extend it.