This small booklet of a mere thirty or so pages is one of the most valuable works we have in the literature of the Truth. It deals with the subject of the atonement or God’s work of reconciliation of man to Himself through the sacrificial mission of Christ.

Forged out of the distressing controversy on this subject during the early 1890s, and subsequent to the debate with J J Andrew, The Blood of Christ represents Robert Roberts’ mature mind on this matter. It was first published in 1895.

Written in easy to understand language it is a definitive work on the subject. It is doubtful whether the huge volume of material written since in the brotherhood (much of it excellent) has added anything substantial to our understanding of this doctrine.

In the very first paragraph Brother Roberts makes the point that, “There is no operation of the divine wisdom that has been so completely misapprehended and misrepresented as the shedding of the blood of Christ”.

The substitutional death represented in the teaching of the Church is quite unacceptable on two counts.

  1. If he died instead of us we ought not to die.
  2. If he paid the penalty of death for us he ought not to have risen.

He subsequently makes the point that the redeeming power of Christ’s offering lay not in his death alone but also in his resurrection: “If Christ be not risen your faith is vain, ye are yet in your sins” (1 Cor 15:17).

God’s justice demands that we pay the penalty of our own sins, but we are forgiven “through the forbearance of God” (Rom 3:25), and Robert Roberts emphasizes these points in dismissing the substitution theory.

He makes a plea for “equilibrium” in considering all the elements involved in the salvation offered through Christ. This is the key to understanding the subject of the atonement, as all the balancing principles need to be kept in view. Brother Roberts superbly demonstrates the need for sin to be condemned in one bearing our nature, who needed to contend with its impulses; and righteousness and forgiveness of sin offered through an obedient life and his subsequent resurrection from the dead. His mode of death demonstrated the just condemnation of sin and sinners, and both in his life and death he declared God right and the flesh incapable of the perfect obedience demanded, being rightly related to death and profiting nothing to God in its natural state

In discussing the term “the blood of Christ” which “cleanseth us from all sin” (1 John 1:7), Robert Roberts says that this has to be understood, not literally, but on the basis of what is represented.

In a quite masterful fashion he then shows by comparing the apostolic expressions, that the terms blood, body and death of Christ are synonymous terms when applied to the sacrificial work of our Lord.

What he calls “modifying considerations” have to be borne in mind to avoid mistakes. Some examples from several which he cites to show the equivalence of these terms are…

  • “Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood” (Rev 5:9)
  • “… we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ” (Heb10:10)
  • “… reconciled to God by the death of His Son” (Rom 5:10).

His mature mind on this subject subsequent to the debate with J J Andrew is in evidence. He avoids the over-literal and legalistic language of J J Andrew which equated the literal flesh with actual sin (ie transgression), and attributed to the blood of Christ a legal efficacy to bring him and us from the grave. Brother Roberts preserves the apostle’s emphasis on God’s grace and forgiveness, “… he by the grace of God should taste death for every man” (Heb 2:9).

Robert Roberts shows that in order to condemn sin, the Lord came “in the likeness of sinful flesh” (Rom 8:3), or as 2 Corinthians 5:21 puts it he was “made sin for us, who knew no sin”. He explains clearly such passages and helps remove some of the difficulties. He shows how that the Lord inherited both the propensities which lead to sin and so suffered temptation as we do (Heb 4:15), and also the nature upon which the sentence of death had been passed because of sin in the beginning (Gen 2:17; 3:19). He defines temptation as “susceptibility to wrong suggestions”. This leads him to the next important point—that is, that the Lord needed to be more than a “mere man” to overcome sin in the same nature as sinners possess. Hence he proceeds to demonstrate that he was indeed the Son of God and that the Heavenly Father was at work in the Lord through His word and his Divine begettal. Thus Robert Roberts says “His parentage and his education were both divine”; and so he was equipped to achieve victory over sin, dependent on his being obedient to his Father’s will.

Wrong views on atonement, says Brother Roberts, have an effect on the character and interfere with “proper development of a moral likeness to God”. If we see Christ’s offering as not involving and including us, but simply as a substitute for us, then we do not live as being responsible to him.

We need to “die daily” and sacrifice to God through him in gratitude for what was done for us (1 Peter 2:21–25).

The balancing consideration which Brother Roberts deals with on page 8 is that, because of the Lord’s inclusion in the generation of Adam’s race, he benefited from his own death and was included with us in his offering.

“… by His own blood he entered once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption” (Heb 9:12). In quoting Philippians 2:8,9 which says “… he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God hath highly exalted him… ”, he shows the orthodox view of a divine Christ, part of the God-head, suffering instead of sinners, to be quite wrong, since it is said that he gained exaltation through his obedience.

The shadow institution of the Law is briefly dealt with to show how the blood of sacrificial animals could never declare God’s righteousness and since this is at the very basis of atonement, they could never remove sin. Paul says of Christ that “God hath set forth (Jesus) to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his (God’s) righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God” (Rom 3:25).

On pages 11–12 the fact is emphasized that reconciliation demands the acknowledgement from man that God is right in condemning sinners to death. He is a sovereign and just God but will forgive sins under specific conditions and only when they are met by man. Robert Roberts calls this process “heaven’s etiquette” (ie rules of manners).

This etiquette demands that we submit in the ordinance of baptism to this righteousness of God, which means that we are “crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed” and then that we might rise to a new way of life “in the likeness of his resurrection” (Rom 6: 4–6).

In The Blood of Christ Brother Roberts in speaking of Christ as a sinless bearer of the condemned nature, and his having upheld God’s righteousness in his life and sacrificial death, uses the beautiful expression of the Lord that he becomes “the administrator of the glorious results achieved”.

The last section of the booklet explains the terminology associated with atonement. Terms such as “sinful flesh”, “sin in the flesh”, “made sin for us” are very clearly explained by the infallible rule of comparing apostolic use of them and equivalent terms used in the epistles. Brother Roberts began in the first section of the booklet by doing this and we should also scrupulously avoid inventing non-apostolic language in the mistaken belief that we are making the subject clearer. We are more likely to add to confusion in the attempt.

In Brother Roberts’ own words on page 14 the subject is in fact “very simple, very reasonable” when we remain within apostolic guidelines.

We would all do well to read or even re-read The Blood of Christ.

All baptismal candidates could benefit from so doing. Our speaking brethren certainly should be familiar with it. In fact it encapsulates the subject of the atonement in a very readable form for the edification of any brother or sister who has “been redeemed not with corruptible things… but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot”.

The following extracts from The Blood of Christ are relevant to the foregoing comments and illustrate the value of this excellent booklet. Brother Roberts wrote: “The system of the Truth as revived in our age by the instrumentality of Dr Thomas, gives us a central idea in which three various expressions converge—‘the blood of Christ’, ‘the offering of the body of Christ’, ‘the death of Christ’.”

Christ himself benefited by his own death

Before attempting to exhibit this convergent harmony, let us notice one strong point of contrast between the popular and the Scriptural views. The popular view is that Christ’s blood was shed that we might go free on the principle on which a man about to be beheaded has been supposed to go free if some-one comes and takes his place. The day of execution arrives, and some strong lover of the doomed man rushes forward in the crowd, and says, “Behead me instead of him”. The proposal is accepted; the substitute is beheaded, and the other goes free: so Christ’s blood is shed, and we go free from our condemnation. Now this cannot be the right view, for this remarkable reason, that Christ himself is exhibited to us as coming under the beneficial operation of his own death, thus: Heb 13:20—“The God of peace, who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the Great Shepherd of the sheep, THROUGH THE BLOOD OF THE EVERLASTING COVENANT”. This is stated perhaps still more clearly in Heb 9:12, in a passage we have already considered, but it has a new bearing here: “Neither by the blood of goats or calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us”. You will observe that the two italicised words, “for us”, are not in the original. In the Authorized Version of 1611 they are added to the translation, and they are added in defiance of grammatical propriety. In the Revised Version of 1881 they are omitted. The verb is in the middle voice, and the meaning of that is remarkable in this connection. We have no middle voice in English: we have passive or active voice: you either do or are done to in English; but in Greek, there is another voice—a middle voice—a state of the verb in which you do a thing to yourself. “Having obtained in himself eternal redemption”. In Phil 2:8 we have the idea more literally expressed—“He became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him”. Orthodox conceptions of this subject leave no room for the idea that Christ was benefited by his own death, and exalted by reason of his submission.

The conditions of Forgiveness

But then forgiveness hath its conditions. God does not offer forgiveness indiscriminately; He does not say He will forgive the sins of the world, whether they take notice of Him or not. Very far from this: He restricts forgiveness to those who fear Him and submit to the conditions He has provided. The question is, What are those conditions? There are various conditions, but we look not now at subsidi- ary conditions, but at the one that comes before all others, as brought forward by Paul in the declaration before us—the propitiatory setting forth of Christ as an object of faith in the shedding of his blood. It is forgiveness that is offered, but not without this—not apart from this. But now comes the question, Why is the death of Christ a sufficient foundation for the forgiveness of sin unto life eternal, when the death of animals was not so? We find answer in the statement that the death of Christ was “to declare the righteousness of God” as the ground of the exercise of His forbearance. That is to say, God maintains His own righteousness and His own supremacy while forgiving us: and exacts the recognition of them and submission to them, as the condition of the exercise of His forbearance in the remission of our sins. Now as we look at Christ, we find in his death the declaration of that righteousness. When we look at the killing of a lamb or of an animal of any kind, it is not a declaration of the righteousness of God that we see except in shadow, in type, in figure: the animal has done no wrong, and in the abstract, there would be wrong and not righteousness in punishing one for the sin of another. The death of Christ was “that God might be just” while acting the part of justifier or forgiver. The sacrifice of animals did not illustrate this, except typically and preliminarily. It did not exhibit the righteousness of God except in the prophetic sense; it was a type of the true exhibition of God’s righteousness that God would accomplish in the Lamb of His own providing. “God shall provide Himself a lamb, my son”, said Abraham to Isaac. He spoke by the Spirit of God, pointing forward; and when Jesus appeared, John said, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world”.

Heaven’s Etiquette

This is Heaven’s etiquette, and the appointed manner of approach for sinners, combining supremacy and love. “I am a great King”. He will forgive and be forbearing if we bow down in the presence of His vindicated righteousness—a righteousness in which kindness and justice converge, which cannot be said for substitution. It would not be righteous to put to death one on whom death had no claims. It would not be kindness to say to us, “I will let you go free if that man will die”. The kindness, wisdom, and righteousness of God are all obscure by any idea of that sort; but the scriptural idea is a masterpiece, a triumph of divine wisdom. God says now: “If you will recognise your position, repent, and come under that man’s wing, I will receive you back to favour and forgive you. My righteousness has been declared in him; I have crowned him with everlasting days; because he loved righteousness and hated iniquity, and was obedient unto death, I have crowned him with life eternal. It is in him for you if you will submit, and believe in him, and put on his name, which is a confession that you have no name of your own that will stand. Obey his commandments, and I will receive you and forgive you for his sake, and ye shall be my sons and daughters”. This is a splendid issue of kindness and wisdom. It is a different thing from the dry legality that would give us the blood of Christ as a sort of precious stuff, with which to touch ourselves and be pure. God operates in the whole transaction. We are cleansed from sin by this beautiful means, that God forgives us because of what Christ has done, if we will accept him and be baptised. In baptism we are provided with a ceremony in which we are baptised into his death, and in which, by a figure, we are washed from our sins in his blood. There is a connection in this view of the case, between what God offers us in Christ, and our own acts. That is, the cleansing result of the atonement is dependent upon our compliances. You remember the expression—“If we walk in the light the blood of Christ cleanseth us from all sin”. If we do not walk in the light, it has no power, which shows that the blood of Christ is not the magical thing represented by orthodox religion; nor the automatic legally operative thing to which it is degraded by some theories, nor the powerless thing thought of by mere moralists, who put the blood of Christ entirely on one side. It is the ritual element in the act or ceremony which the living, loving, wise Author of the universe has established as the basis of reconciliation between Himself and those who have wandered far from Him into the ways of death. It is He who applies the results on faith being exercised in His appointment. It is the expression of His justice in the process of justifying those who believe.

The Place of Forgiveness

Thus the meaning of the death of Christ falls easily within the definition that has been supplied to us in the words of inspiration. That definition satisfies all the demands of the understanding, reconciling every apparently discordant element in the case. It occurs twice in the course of Paul’s letter to the Romans—in two different forms that exhibit the whole case. Both forms have been frequently on our lips in the course of these remarks; but they bear repeating. In the first, he says it was to “declare His (God’s) righteousness for (and in order to) the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God” (chap 3:25); and in the second, he says it “condemned sin in the flesh” (chap 8:3). The crucifixion of Christ as a “declaration of the righteousness of God” and a “condemnation of sin in the flesh”, exhibited to the world the righteous treatment of sin. It was as though it was proclaimed to all the world, when the body was nailed to the cross: “This is how condemned human nature should be treated according to the righteousness of God; it is fit only for destruction”. The shedding of the blood was the ritual symbol of that truth; for the shedding of the blood was the taking away of the life. Such a declaration of the righteousness of God could only be made in the very nature concerned; a body under the dominion of death because of sin. It would not have been a declaration of the righteousness of God to have crucified an angel or a new man made fresh from the ground. There would have been confusion in such an operation. This is why it was necessary that Jesus should be “made of the seed of David according to the flesh” (Rom 1:3), that he might partake of the very flesh and blood of man (Heb 2:14). It was that nature that was to be operated upon and redeemed in him. It was needful that he should at the first “come in the flesh”. This is where the gnostic heresy of the first century condemned by John (1 John 4:3) was so disastrous to the scheme of God’s wisdom in Christ. They denied that Jesus Christ had come in the flesh, which obscured the lesson taught and the object aimed at in the sacrifice of Christ. This also is the effect of the orthodox doctrine of substitution.

The Divine Side of Christ

The great feature of these declarations is that Christ is the work of God in a sense in which man is not, that the glory of the triumph wrought out in him may be to God, and that human nature may have no room for the complacent self-credit which is so common with man. To see the full force of this idea we must realise the divine side of Christ. In all the discourses of Christ, the Father is brought forward as the great initiator and operator in the case.

Sin in the flesh

And now we have to consider in what sense did Christ come in sinful flesh. There are two things involved in these expressions that require carefully separating in order to understand their bearing in the questions that have been raised. Sin, in the primary and completest sense, is disobedience. In this sense, there was no sin in Christ. But where is the source of disobedience? In the inclinations that are inherent in the flesh. Without these, there would be no sin. Hence it is (because they are the cause of sin) that they are sometimes spoken of as sin. As where Paul speaks in Romans 7 of “sin that dwelleth in me” and “the motions of sin in my members”, etc. These inclinations are so described in contrast to the spirit nature in which there are no inclinations leading to sin. It is only in this sense that Christ “was made sin”, which Paul states (2 Cor 5:21). He was made in all points like to his brethren, and therefore of a nature experiencing the infirmities leading to temptation: “tempted in all points like them, but without sin”. All this is testified (Heb 2:17; 4:15). He has also come under the dominion of sin in coming under the hereditary power of death which is the wages of sin. He was in this sense made part of the sin-constitution of things, deriving from his mother both the propensities that lead to sin and the sentence of death that was passed because of sin. He was himself absolutely sinless as to disobedience, while subject to the impulses and the consequences of sin. The object was to open a way out of this state, both for himself and his brethren, by death and resurrection after trial. It pleased God to require the ceremonial condemnation of this sin-nature in crucifixion in the person of a righteous possessor of it, as the basis of our forgiveness.

The Final Triumph

The final triumph will show us at the end a generation of Adam’s race brought from the grave, belonging to different ages, having lived in different circumstances, but all related to the same hereditary evil, and who all in their several days overcame by the same power, the power of the truth testified to them, and the power of God’s will declared to them, and submitted to by them. They pleased God by their faith and submission, and Christ comes and gathers them all to himself. This is the final aim of the gospel, that all the children of God might be gathered together in one, and formed into one society, one family, all developed on one principle. No neutrals amongst them; all of them men and women of love, shown by the obedience of faith, all of them tried men and women, humble and humbled; not only invited to come as little children, but helped to be such by tribulation and chastisement; all of them then perfected, for death is obliterated as entirely from their nature as it has been from Christ’s, whom God did not allow to remain in death more than three days, and then took him away to Himself, where he has been basking in the sunshine of His glorious presence. When Moses came down from the mount, his face shone; when Christ comes forth from the Father’s presence, he will come forth resplendent with the Father’s glory. His people will be gathered together to him; in his presence they will forget their sorrows. Is any grieving at the wrongs of the spiritual situation as it now exists? Wait—it cannot be otherwise at present. By and by we shall be introduced to a company, every one of whom will be a glowing ember of divine fire, every one a perfected son or daughter, with immortal nature, which disease can never touch, which can never faint nor fail. Oh, the joy of identification with them! On the question of how they came there, their minds fix with one accord upon the central figure, and they say, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, and hath redeemed us to God by his blood: blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sits upon the throne and unto the Lamb for ever”. It is beautiful to look forward to; soothing and inspiring and encouraging and purifying. “The redeemed of the Lord shall come with singing unto Zion, and everlasting joy shall be upon their heads”; the joy everlasting, because pure, and based upon divine righteousness, which God Himself has given to us; first through Moses, and then through Christ, who shall at last be pointed to as having taken away the sin of the world, and all its evil consequences.