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echoes of thought in love with God through Christ crucified

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The Son of God is “the true Light, which lights every man that cometh into the world.” Therefore whoever does not acknowledge Christ and believe in Him, and does not make Him his own, is and remains a child of wrath (Eph. 2:3) and of damnation, no matter what he is called or what he is. But if man is to find mercy, Christ alone must be the means. He alone makes us paupers rich with His superabundance, expunges our sins with His righteousness, devours our death with His life, and transforms us from children of wrath, tainted with sin, hypocrisy, lies, and deceit, into children of grace and truth. Whoever does not possess this Man possesses nothing.

—Martin Luther
“Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 1-4” in Works, 22:130–131.

The grace of Christ alone provides true satisfaction for sin and peace to the conscience.

Christ has provided full satisfaction. But such is their perversity, they say that both forgiveness of sins and reconciliation take place once for all when in Baptism we are received through Christ into the grace of God; that after Baptism we must rise up again through satisfactions; that the blood of Christ is of no avail, except in so far as it is dispensed through the keys of the church. And I am not speaking of a doubtful matter, since not one or another, but all the Schoolmen, have, in very clear writings, betrayed their own taint. For their master, after he confessed that Christ on the tree paid the penalty of our sins, according to Peter’s teaching [1 Peter 2:24], corrected that statement by adding the exception that in Baptism all temporal penalties of sins are relaxed, but after Baptism they are lessened by the help of penance, so that the cross of Christ and our penance may work together. But John speaks far differently: “If anyone has sinned, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ …; and he is the propitiation for our sins” [1 John 2:1–2]. “I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven in his name.” [1 John 2:12] Surely he is addressing believers, to whom, while he sets forth Christ as the propitiation of sins, he shows that there is no other satisfaction whereby offended God can be propitiated or appeased. He does not say: “God was once for all reconciled to you through Christ; now seek for yourselves another means.” But he makes him a perpetual advocate in order that by his intercession he may always restore us to the Father’s favor; an everlasting propitiation by which sins may be expiated. For what the other John said is ever true: “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!” [John 1:29; cf. John 1:36]. He, I say, not another, takes them away; that is, since he alone is the Lamb of God, he also is the sole offering for sins, the sole expiation, the sole satisfaction. For while the right and power of forgiving sins properly belong to the Father, in which respect he is distinguished from the Son, as we have already seen, Christ is here placed on another level because, taking upon himself the penalty that we owe, he has wiped out our guilt before God’s judgment. From this it follows that we shall share in the expiation made by Christ only if that honor rest with him which those who try to appease God by their own recompense seize for themselves.

—John Calvin
Institutes, 3.4.26.

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.”
—Galatians 3:13

With gratitude and with a sure confidence, therefore, let us accept this doctrine, so sweet and so filled with comfort, which teaches that Christ became a curse for us … Therefore He truly became accursed according to the Law, not for Himself but, as Paul says, ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν [“on our behalf”]. For unless He had taken upon Himself my sins, your sins, and the sins of the entire world, the Law would have had no right over Him, since it condemns only sinners and holds only them under a curse. Therefore He could neither have become a curse nor have died, since the cause of the curse and of death is sin, of which He was innocent. But because He took upon Himself our sins, not by compulsion but of His own free will, it was right for Him to bear the punishment and the wrath of God—not for His own Person, which was righteous and invincible and therefore could not become guilty, but for our person.

By this fortunate exchange with us He took upon Himself our sinful person and granted us His innocent and victorious Person. Clothed and dressed in this, we are freed from the curse of the Law, because Christ Himself voluntarily became a curse for us, saying: “For My own Person of humanity and divinity I am blessed, and I am in need of nothing whatever. But I shall empty Myself (Phil. 2:7); I shall assume your clothing and mask; and in this I shall walk about and suffer death, in order to set you free from death.” Therefore when, inside our mask, He was carrying the sin of the whole world, He was captured, He suffered, He was crucified, He died; and for us He became a curse. But because He was a divine and eternal Person, it was impossible for death to hold Him. Therefore He arose from death on the third day, and now He lives eternally; nor can sin, death, and our mask be found in Him any longer; but there is sheer righteousness, life, and eternal blessing.

We must look at this image and take hold of it with a firm faith. He who does this has the innocence and the victory of Christ, no matter how great a sinner he is. But this cannot be grasped by loving will; it can be grasped only by reason illumined by faith. Therefore we are justified by faith alone, because faith alone grasps this victory of Christ. … If you believe that sin, death, and the curse have been abolished, they have been abolished, because Christ conquered and overcame them in Himself; and He wants us to believe that just as in His Person there is no longer the mask of the sinner or any vestige of death, so this is no longer in our person, since He has done everything for us.

Therefore if sin makes you anxious, and if death terrifies you, just think that this is an empty specter and an illusion of the devil—which is what it surely is. For in fact there is no sin any longer, no curse, no death, and no devil, because Christ has conquered and abolished all these. Accordingly, the victory of Christ is utterly certain; the defects lie not in the fact itself, which is completely true, but in our incredulity. It is difficult for reason to believe such inestimable blessings. In addition, the devil and the sectarians—the former with his flaming darts (Eph. 6:16), the latter with their perverse and wicked doctrine—are bent on this one thing: to obscure this doctrine and take it away from us. It is above all for this doctrine, on which we insist so diligently, that we bear the hate and persecution of Satan and of the world. For Satan feels the power and the results of this doctrine.

—Martin Luther
“Lectures on Galatians, 1535,” in Works, 26:283–285.

The foundation upon which our faith rests is this, that “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them.” The great fact on which genuine faith relies is, that “the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us,” and that “Christ also hath suffered for sin, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God”; “Who himself bare our sins in his own body on the tree”; “For the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and by his stripes we are healed.”

In one word, the great pillar of the Christian’s hope is substitution.

The vicarious sacrifice of Christ for the guilty, Christ being made sin for us that we might be made the righteousness of God in him, Christ offering up a true and proper expiatory and substitutionary sacrifice in the room, place, and stead of as many as the Father gave him, who are known to God by name, and are recognized in their own hearts by their trusting in Jesus—this is the cardinal fact of the gospel. If this foundation were removed, what could we do? But it standeth firm as the throne of God. We know it; we rest on it; we rejoice in it; and our delight is to hold it, to meditate upon it, and to proclaim it, while we desire to be actuated and moved by gratitude for it in every part of our life and conversation. In these days a direct attack is made upon the doctrine of the atonement. Men cannot bear substitution. They gnash their teeth at the thought of the Lamb of God bearing the sin of man. But we, who know by experience the preciousness of this truth, will proclaim it in defiance of them confidently and unceasingly. We will neither dilute it nor change it, nor fritter it away in any shape or fashion. It shall still be Christ, a positive substitute, bearing human guilt and suffering in the stead of men. We cannot, dare not, give it up, for it is our life, and despite every controversy we feel that “Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure.”

—Charles H. Spurgeon
Morning and Evening: Daily Readings, Evening, June 21.

But when we say that grace was imparted to us by the merit of Christ, we mean this: by his blood we were cleansed, and his death was an expiation for our sins. “His blood cleanses us from all sin.” [1 John 1:7.] “This is my blood … which is shed … for the forgiveness of sins.” [Matt. 26:28; cf. Luke 22:20.] If the effect of his shedding of blood is that our sins are not imputed to us, it follows that God’s judgment was satisfied by that price. On this point John the Baptist’s words apply: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” [John 1:29]. For he sets Christ over against all the sacrifices of the law, to teach that what those figures showed was fulfilled in him alone. We know what Moses often says: “Iniquity will be atoned for, sin will be blotted out and forgiven” [cf. Ex. 34:7; Lev. 16:34]. In short, the old figures well teach us the force and power of Christ’s death. And in The Letter to the Hebrews the apostle skillfully using this principle explains this point: “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” [Heb. 9:22]. From this he concludes that “Christ has appeared once for all … to wipe out sin by the sacrifice of himself” [Heb. 9:26]. Again, “Christ was offered … to bear the sins of many” [Heb. 9:28]. He had previously said: “He entered once for all into the Holy Place not through the blood of goats and calves but through his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption” [Heb. 9:12]. He now reasons on this wise: “If the blood of a heifer sanctifies unto the cleanness of the flesh, much more does the blood of Christ … cleanse your consciences from dead works” [Heb. 9:13–14 p.]. This readily shows that Christ’s grace is too much weakened unless we grant to his sacrifice the power of expiating, appeasing, and making satisfaction. As he adds a little later: “He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred meanwhile which redeems them from the preceding transgressions that remained under the law” [Heb. 9:15 p.].

It is especially worth-while to ponder the analogy set forth by Paul: “Christ … became a curse for us,” etc. [Gal. 3:13]. It was superfluous, even absurd, for Christ to be burdened with a curse, unless it was to acquire righteousness for others by paying what they owed. Isaiah’s testimony is also clear: “The chastisement of our peace was laid upon Christ, and with his stripes healing has come to us” [Isa. 53:5 p.]. For unless Christ had made satisfaction for our sins, it would not have been said that he appeased God by taking upon himself the penalty to which we were subject. The words that follow in the same passage agree with this: “I have stricken him for the transgression of my people” [Isa. 53:8 p.]. Let us add the interpretation of Peter, which will remove all uncertainty: “He … bore our sins … on the tree” [1 Peter 2:24]. He is saying that the burden of condemnation, from which we were freed, was laid upon Christ.

—John Calvin
Institutes II, xvii, 4.

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