Chapter 21 The Propitiation For Sins

Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins (l John 4:10).

When a man comes before the Lord, he must do so with humility, faith, and love. He must come full of self-abasement. He must abhor himself. He must know that he is a lost, ruined, undone sinner. He must see that eternal rejection is his due. He must feel that he has no power to help himself. He must be full, too, of sanctifying love. He cannot trust in mercy so full—unmerited, suitable, effectual—without feeling that, being thus purchased from perdition, he must live a willing sacrifice to God.

But there is very much of Cain religion in the world, and we must beware of it. Self-will is at its root. Some there are who believe in God, and seem to come to God, but they bring, as Cain did, the fruit of their own toil. The appearance is fair; but the disguise eventually falls, and we see that they are “of that wicked one.” God has ordained the way, but the self-willed and self-opinionated want a religion more suitable to the dignity of man. They therefore grope in their own conceits. It is the delusion of many. Professing themselves to be wise, they become fools. Self-will, shot through with pride, first makes a god, then a religion, then a pit of destruction for such people.

Man’s Need of a Propitiation

Man is a moral being and accountable to God. Having sinned, he needs a propitiatory sacrifice. He has broken the law which is “holy, just, and good.” That moral law is divine in its origin, immutable in its nature, and reasonable in its requirements. The principle which refuses to obey God’s law is essentially evil. Therefore, persons who breech the law must be punished. This being the case, a man can be saved only through a propitiatory offering—an atoning sacrifice—a substitution offered in his stead.

Sinful man cannot expiate his own offenses. All his good works, sufferings, austerities, and sacrifices cannot atone for a single sin. Even repentance cannot expiate sin. So man cannot provide his own propitiation. We must never close our eyes to sin’s intense malignity and to the fact that it is an abomination to God, most holy.

Divine justice is inflexible. God’s justice supports His own holy law, honors that law, enforces that law. If man deserves punishment for breaking the law, then justice must inflict the punishment, either upon him personally or upon a substitute. Were this not so, the moral government of the universe would break down.

God’s Provision of a Propitiation

No creature could ever make propitiation for himself (that would put God under obligation to give him a reward)— present merit to God, demand justification as a reward of his good conduct. A sinful man possesses no passport into God’s holy presence. He has no fit raiment for that royal court. Ignorance of this is the dark veil which blinds our race.

The Lord Jesus, God’s eternal Son, is the only one who could adapt to such a propitiation. In order to become that, He had perforce to be made flesh and assume our manhood. In doing that, He united in Himself both the divine and human natures, and thus became qualified to bear what no man could ever bear. Through Him the law is magnified—made honorable—and is fully satisfied. Every claim of justice is met by Him.

We must realize that all man’s own moral principles—all longings to be pure, all sense of shame—are as weak as feathers to stay a flood. He cannot stand. But through our Lord’s propitiation, with His precious blood streaming to atone, a new force enters.

Man is made strong by a new life. He is set free from sin and, by the gift of Christ’s own life, he rises to reign in life. The hands of the Lord Jesus have wrought a royal robe for him. The Lord Himself covers believers with a righteousness divine. God’s eyes desire no more. A new man rises in Christ, and righteousness and true holiness lift up their fruitful and fragrant heads on him again.

God’s Love in Providing a Propitiation

We are not to suppose for a moment that the sacrifice of the beloved Son of God was to quench the anger of the Father. That is blasphemy! Nor are we to suppose that our Lord Jesus Christ died to make God merciful. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are three Persons in the unity of the Godhead, and all act in concert.

This sacrifice to make propitiation for sins is unparalleled in its nature. It is contrary to man’s own desire. It was never in man’s mind to conceive such a thing. No man ever invited God to make atonement. It is “not that we loved God.” It is that “He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”

Think how much God loved us! What awesome majesty is His! What high dignity belongs to God! But in order to become a satisfactory propitiation, what degradation He had to undergo, what suffering He had to endure, what shame He had to bear!

Can we not see, then, that God’s great love is infinite and immense in its extent? It encompasses every age of man. It stretches throughout every race and condition. It reaches down to man in the lowest condition of human experience. It appeals to the basest and most abominable specimens of humanity. Jesus saves by rescuing from hell. Jesus saves by giving title to Heaven. Jesus saves by making man meet for Heaven. The end is surely most glorious.

How wonderful it all is! It is great because such propitiation has been willed, planned, and accepted by God, the Father; because it has been wrought out and finished by God, the Son; and because it has been applied and made effectual in believing people by God, the Holy Spirit.

When this passing world is done,
When has sunk yon glaring sun,
When I stand with Christ on high,
Looking o’er life’s history;
Then, Lord, shall I fully know—
Not till then—how much I owe.

When I stand before the throne,
Dressed in beauty not my own;
When I see Thee as Thou art,
Love Thee with unsinning heart,
Then, Lord, shall I fully know—
Not till then—how much I owe.

Chosen not for good in me;
Wakened up from wrath to flee;
Hidden in the Saviour’s side;
By the Spirit sanctified:
Teach me, Lord, on earth to show,
By my love, how much I owe.

R. Murray McCheyne