The Westminster Confession Of Faith. Section VIII. 5

“The Lord Jesus, by his perfect obedience and sacrifice of himself, which he through the eternal Spirit once offered up to God, has fully satisfied the justice of his Father (Rom. 3:25-26; 5:19; Eph. 5:2; Heb. 9:12, 15).” Here we affirm that Jesus’ “perfect obedience”, what is called his active obedience, or how he lived his sinless life according to God’s law, is the only acceptable sacrifice for sin, which is the violation of that law. Secondly, we here affirm that Jesus performed his work in the power of the Spirit. Thirdly, by the Spirit he freely gave his life as a sacrifice, it was not taken from him. Fourthly, this sacrifice of himself was unto God, and not primarily as only an example of selfless love, though it was also that. Fifth, he did this but once, unlike the Roman Catholic heresy that posits him being sacrificed anew with each mass. Finally, and most significantly, the sacrifice of himself on behalf of his own, “satisfied the justice of his Father.” It was indeed just that the Father should demand such a sacrifice, since in the beginning, man, represented in covenant with Adam, disobeyed that first command given, knowing that the punishment would justly be death (Cf. WCF. II. 1-2; VII.3-4).

“We are saved, not only by Christ’s death, but also by his life. This is a perfectly Scriptural idea, if only we do not deform and contort it as the modernists did. The apostle in Romans 5:10 says, “Much more, being reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.” It is the righteousness Jesus earned by his life – theologians call his active obedience – that he imputes to us, making us righteous in God’s sight. Today it is customary to call this the doctrine of the atonement; but it used to be called the Satisfaction, and Satisfaction is rather the better name. Romans 3:25, 26 explain precisely what Christ did in his death; they show the method of salvation. Jesus Christ by his death expiates sin, propitiates the Father, and satisfies divine justice.”1Van Dixhoorn adds a further important distinction concerning Christ’s obedience. “Surely it is the whole of his obedience – both Christ’s general obedience to the whole law and Christ’s obedience in his role as mediator – that is in view in Paul’s letter to the Romans. There he speaks of ‘the obedience of one man’, Jesus Christ, through which many are ‘made righteous’ (Rom. 5:19).”2

Van Dixhoorn also has an interesting commentary on a Hebrews 9:14-16. “We must conclude that when our Lord Jesus Christ offered a sacrifice, he must have been doing it for others – for those who are sinners. This is in fact what the writer to the Hebrews says: Christ’s conscience was clear, and so he made an offering to ‘purge’ our ‘consciences from dead works’ (Heb. 9:14). Yes, Christ was tempted like all other people – in fact above and beyond any allurement or provocation that we may ever face. But he did not fall to temptation, both because of who he was and because he had the Spirit above all measure. As Hebrews 9 explains, it was ‘through the eternal Spirit’ that Christ ‘offered himself without spot to God’. And surely that is the most amazing fact of all: that the offering that Jesus Christ gave was his own self. That is an offering like no other – an offering of infinite merit and infinite worth. As Hebrews 9 tells us again, this was ‘necessary’ for our salvation (Heb. 9:14, 16). Jesus was to propitiate the wrath of God – he was to appease the wrath of God by a sacrifice (Rom. 3:25).”3The writer to the Hebrews also makes the point concerning propitiation (2:17, properly so translated in the NKJV. Cf. I Jn. 2:2; 4:10).

In addition to his active obedience, he followed this up with what is called his ‘passive’ obedience, that is, his passion. This sacrifice also “purchased not only reconciliation, but an everlasting inheritance in the kingdom of heaven, for all those whom the Father has given unto him (Dan. 9:24-26; Jn. 17:2; Eph. 1:11-14; Col. 1:19-20; Heb. 9:12-15; Js. 1:17).” There was enmity between God and fallen humanity, an enmity that could only be removed by a mediator, which what took place when the Son’s sacrifice was accepted by the Father on behalf of “all those whom the Father had given unto him.” Here we have affirmed that Christ died for the elect only, that he is that promised seed who would shift the enmity between the elect and God to an enmity between God, the elect, and the seed of Satan, the rest of humanity. However, salvation is not just limited to the rescue from death to live with the LORD God forever. Rather, in the Son we also receive an abundant inheritance, one which we begin to enjoy the moment we are regenerated by the spirit, and made sons and daughters of God. Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” (Jn. 10:10)

“He suffered by the appointment of God, who alone had a right to admit of the death of a surety in the room of transgressors; he suffered in the same nature that had sinned; his sufferings were voluntary and obediential (sic), and therefore possessed a moral fitness for making reparation to the injured honours of the divine law; he was Lord of his own life, and had a right to lay it down in the room of others; and his sufferings were, from the dignity of his person, of infinite value for the expiation of our sins. That the sacrifice of Christ was fully satisfactory to divine justice, cannot be questioned. An apostle testifies that the sacrifice which Christ offered up was for ‘a sweet smelling savour unto God’ (Eph. 5:2). Christ himself announced that the satisfaction was complete, when, on the cross, he proclaimed, ‘It is finished.’ And we have a most decisive proof of the satisfactory nature of his sacrifice, in his resurrection from the dead and his glorious exaltation in heaven.”4There is indeed the possibility of imagining that this sacrifice was and is sufficient to save all humanity, and the world, but scripture teaches that it is an atonement limited to the elect.

The doctrine of ‘limited atonement’ will be explored further later (XI.3), but it is perhaps regrettable that in English this adjective was chosen to fulfill an arbitrary acronym of the ‘TULIP’, has helpful as this may be to remembering “the doctrines of grace,” being total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and the perseverance of the saints. It is regrettable, because it should never be conceived as limited, but rather only particular or definite in application. Williamson made this point when he wrote that “this term has given rise to the misconception that the Reformed Churches “limit” the atonement, whereas the Arminian groups do not.”5The exact opposite is in fact the case, because Arminians limit it in its power to save, being subject, as they teach, to the autonomous will of fallen humanity. The fact is, even Arminians acknowledge that not all people are saved. It is really a question of how one accounts for this fact. “Those who are actually saved are those whom it was ever God’s design to save.”6The design was never to save all men, but only the elect according to grace. This doctrine was in fact the first move to apostacy for many.7

“Christ actually took upon himself the sin and punishment of his people (Is. 53; Rom. 5:19; Heb. 3:25-26; 10:14). They in turn receive the imputed righteousness of Christ (I Cor. 5:21, etc). They are pardoned because their sin is punished in Christ. And they are restored because his righteousness becomes theirs. Thus it becomes painfully clear that the only way to extend the design of the atonement so as to include everyone equally within its provision is to denature it and to eliminate its substitutionary character. But if we hold, with Scripture, that in this, as in all other redemptive works of God, he had in view a special people, then we may magnify its power and rest our faith securely therein.”8Scripture “teaches us that Jesus was so named because he would ‘save his people’ from their sin (Matt. 1:21). He gave his life a ransom for many (Matt. 28). He promised that he would actually save all that the Father had given him (John 6:37,39). In Romans 8:29 the apostle states the fact that only those predestined of God to subsequently receive salvation do actually receive the same. Each particular benefit of salvation is therefore unfolded to them (Rom. 8:30).”9

It is worth quoting further from Williamson, who did such a good job on this point of the atonement. “The basis of it all, he (Paul) says, is that God “spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all” (8:32). It is because they are elect that they are the recipients of the atonement of Christ, and it is no wonder that, God having given his Son unto death for them, he will also with him freely give them all things (8:32).”10We have Christ’s word on this (Jn. 6:38-39; 10:15ff.; 17:9-10). “These words were not spoken by one who intended that his death benefit all men in the same way. And certainly they do not indicate a mere intention of making salvation possible. They are the words of one who intended to surely save his people from their sins. It is true of course, that certain texts of Scripture seem applicable to a universal design of the atonement (such as Heb. 2:9, II Cor. 5:14,15; I John 2:2, I Tim. 4:10, etc). concerning such texts the following may be said: (1) the context is often ignored. (2) The failure to discern the proper meaning of Scripture terms by a comparison of Scripture with Scripture. (3) Finally, there are certain gracious benefits that accrue to the whole human race.”11

“God was not merely rendered reconcilable, but fully reconciled by the death of Christ (Rom. 5:10-11).”12Inheritance is also procured, based as it is on title. “Christ not only sustained the full infliction of the penalty of the law, to obtain for his people deliverance from condemnation, but also perfectly fulfilled its precept, to procure for them title to the eternal inheritance. Indeed, his endurance of the penalty, and his obedience to the precept of the law, though they may be distinguished, cannot be separated, and constitute that one righteousness which is meritorious of their complete salvation. ‘Grace reigns through righteousness unto eternal life, by Jesus Christ our Lord’ (Rom. 5:21) ‘By Chris’s satisfaction, says the accurate Witsius, ‘deliverance from sin, and all the happy effects of that immunity, were purchased at once for all the elect in general.’”13Hodge also makes a vital point with respect to those saints who died before Christ finished his work. “Although this perfect satisfaction was rendered in his obedience and suffering only subsequently to his incarnation, yet the full benefits thereof had been applied to each of the elect” before (Cf. VII.. 5-6).14

A further point from Hodge is worth noting, tying a number of points together. “The sufferings of Christ secure the remission of the penalty; and by his active obedience, according to the terms of the covenant made with Adam and assumed by Christ, he purchases a right to life and eternal blessedness. That he has so purchased a right to life for all those whose stead he rendered obedience, is proved from the fact that the Scriptures habitually set forth the truth that the “adoption of sons” and “eternal life” are given to the believer freely for Christ’s sake, as elements of that ‘purchased possession’ of which the Holy Spirit is the earnest. Eph. i.11-14; Rom. viii.15-17; Gal. i.4; iii.13,14; iv.4,5; Eph. v.25-27; Tit. Iii.5,6; Rev. i.5,6; v.9,10.”15Biblical salvation is covenantal through and through. It is only through headship that our sin can be imputed to Christ, since he knew no sin, and his righteousness imputed to us. There were certainly external members of the covenant of old who were not the true beneficiaries of its blessings, just as there have been to the present in the visible church. However, none of this takes away from the ideal of being a member of Christ’s body, visible and invisible.

There is one final point to be made with respect to the fulfilling of the prophecy of Daniel as we find it at 9:26-27. There we read the following. “And after the sixty-two weeks (cf. vv. 24-25) Messiah shall be cut off, but not for Himself; and the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end of it shall be with a flood, and till the end of the war desolations are determined (26). Then he shall confirm a covenant with many for one week; but in the middle of the week he shall bring an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall be one who makes desolate, even until the consummation, which is determined, is poured out on the desolate.” Matthew records this as occurring in 70 AD (24-25), as also Luke (21). Sacrifices and the temple, along with the city, did indeed come to an end then. At this time, the Messianic reign of Jesus the Christ began, also in fulfillment of Daniel’s words at 7:13-14, having been exalted to the right hand of the Father. This reign will continue from heaven until, as Paul wrote, “He has put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be destroyed is death.” (I Cor. 15:26).

1. Clark, (98-100)

2. (120)

3. Ibid., (120-1)

4. Shaw, (154-5)

5. Williamson, (79)

6. Ibid., (79)

7. Ibid., (80 – The UPCNA in 1925).

8. Ibid., (80)

9. Ibid., (80)

10. Ibid., (80)

11. Ibid., (80-81 “See Gen. 8:20-9:17 for the provisions of the covenant of grace applicable to all men. [81])

12. Shaw, (155)

13. Ibid., (155-6 Witsius, ‘Economy of the Covenants’, book ii. Ch. 7. “see also Turretin, vol. iv – De Satisfactione Christi.” [156])

14. (149)

15. (150-1)

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