Christians have no idea of many of the doctrines of the Christian religion, and are

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1 Book Report: The Atonement by Gordon H. Clark Gordon Clark s book The Atonement attempts to not only explain but persuade the reader of the nature and extent of the atonement. Clark notes that a vast majority of Christians have no idea of many of the doctrines of the Christian religion, and are woefully ignorant of the most important. Clark intends to provide some exposition of verses and draw inferences from these verses. He then intends to refute several arguments against the atonement and the Christian faith. In accordance with these goals, Clark explains the doctrine of the atonement as follows: Christ s death was a sacrifice. It was an expiatory sacrifice for sins. It was a vicarious or substitutionary sacrifice. It was a propitiation of God s wrath. It was satisfaction of divine justice. The atonement is the explanation of the events of Christ s death. This is part of the divine plan of salvation, an eternal thought in the mind of God. Clark divides the preparatory steps to the plan of salvation into two covenants: the covenant of redemption, which is the relation between the Father and the Son, and the covenant of grace, which is the relation between the Son and the people he came to save. Clark lists a dozen or so verses that demonstrate the relationship between the Father and the Son in the plan of salvation. For Christ, Clark states the covenant of redemption was a covenant of works. It was necessary for Christ to live a perfect sinless life, in full obedience to the law, and then to bear the penalty due to the sinners he came to save. Christ earned salvation. 1

2 The covenant of grace, the other division of the plan of salvation, is the single plan of salvation as described in the Bible. The terms of the covenant of grace are dictated by God, and no man can change them. It is wholly divine. Dispensationalism, on the other hand, has basically two divisions or two ways of salvation one through the law and the other through the spirit. One is for ethnic Israel and one is for the church. The Scriptures, however, describes one way of salvation and one plan, from Adam to the end, and that is of grace. No one has ever been saved by keeping the law, and no one ever kept the law entirely. Salvation has always been by grace alone through faith alone. The incarnation is a term that means to become flesh. Christianity assumes that there was a person who existed before he was born. His birth, or conception, was the occasion of his appearing in the flesh. It is God becoming flesh. The NT books identify Jesus as Jehovah. The divine nature did not incur any change in the incarnation; the divine person did not become a human person. Christ, maintaining his divine nature, associated himself or assumed to himself a complete human nature. How did this occur? The Bible explicitly asserts the biological miracle of the virgin birth. Matthew 1 and Luke 1 both describe this event. This was a miracle of nature, but if God is omnipotent, then he can work miracles. If people reject supernaturalism, then there is no use arguing about a single miracle. This was not the birth of a new person, Clark states, because the Second Person had already existed. Additionally, the sin nature of man was not imputed to Jesus; Christ was sinless. Jesus did however, have two natures, one human and one divine. Christ had a human nature. This is the point of the virgin birth. The Council of Chalcedon in AD 451 2

3 set forth the doctrine that Christ is one person with two natures. Clark lists several verses that are essential for an understanding of Christ s human nature: Matthew 4:2, 26;38; Mark 13:32; Luke 2:52; John 4:6, 8:40, and 11:35, among others. Christ was indeed a man; he was not God in a body. Christ s deity, however, was not impaired in any way. There is a theory of kenosis that basically states that the Logos so emptied himself of all of his divine attributes that he completely ceased his cosmic functions throughout his earthly years. This, however, makes Christ entirely human and denies both natures. The emptying or humiliation described in Philippians 2:7 is easily understood through the doctrine of the two natures of Christ. The incarnate person was both God and man. The purpose of the incarnation was therefore that Jesus should die. Clark cites several passages to verify this statement, which summarize the significance of the OT ritual of sacrifice. The lamb was chosen to die. Christ was the lamb chosen before the foundation of the world, and he therefore came to die. Jesus kept the law perfectly and was sinless in order to be the perfect sacrifice. Sin is any transgression or of want of conformity to the law of God. Since Jesus was without sin, he must have obeyed the law perfectly. This doctrine is called the active obedience of Christ in distinction from his suffering and death. God made a covenant of works with Adam, and set forth conditions that Adam had to fulfill. The covenant of works contained both a penalty and a reward. Sin carries a penalty, and Clark demonstrates this with Scriptural evidence. Death is established as the penalty of sin. The sacrifice in the OT somehow restores the sinner to God s favor, and removes the necessity from the person of suffering the penalty himself. From 3

4 Scripture, Clark shows that the penalty for sin is everlasting death. Scripturally, God has decreed a penalty for sin, and toward such disobedience God exhibits his wrath. This means that a penal theory of sin and salvation must therefore require a penal theory of the atonement. Christ, by dying, suffered a penalty for sin instead of our suffering the penalty that was due to us. Clark quotes abundant Scriptural support for the vicarious sacrifice. Christ s death is said to be our Passover sacrifice. This makes Christ s death as substitutionary as any of the OT lambs. Since the OT lambs were without spot or blemish, so too Christ had to be sinless by virtue of his active obedience. Substitution and sinlessness have a direct bearing on expiation of sin and propitiation of God. Christ s death was not an accident that obstructed God s plan. It was a major part of that plan. It was a payment of a ransom, as in Mark 10:45. It was a voluntary transaction, not involuntary martyrdom. One obvious objection to the vicarious atonement is the principle that the punishment of a crime cannot be imposed on any substitute. It must be imposed on the criminal. Clark answers this objection through the concepts of federal headship and the sovereignty of God. Clark explains the concept of expiation, which is the cancelling of sin, purging it out, washing it away. It is common to expiate a crime by paying the penalty. The sins of God s people are expiated through the shed blood of Christ, as Clark sows with numerous Scriptures. Expiation is not a moral improvement of the sinner. When Christ paid our penalty, we are freed from further penalty. If guilt means liability to punishment, then 4

5 expiation removes that liability. It doesn t remove the defilement or depravity; it cancels the guilt. The sacrifice brought the forgiveness of sins. Clark then explains the concept of propitiation. Many theologians, he asserts, still believe that Christ s death paid a ransom to the devil. However, the ransom was paid to God to satisfy the justice of God, and this is propitiation. It literally means to turn wrath aside. Sins are expiated. God is propitiated. Christ was the lamb of God, and by accepting the penalty of our sins, he satisfied the justice of God, thus propitiating God and reconciling God to those who had been his enemies. God was both just and the justifier of those who had faith in Jesus. Clark states very specifically that Scripture teaches us unmistakably that Christ is the only substitute, that there is no salvation in any other name, and that it is necessary for us to depend on Christ s merits alone. Clark asks the question, then, could God have used a different method? He answers this question in his discussion of the ideas of federal headship, traducianism, and God s sovereignty. Clark looks at Romans 5:12 21 in his discussion on federal headship. To speak of Adam as our representative is to identify him as the federal head of the human race. In response to several arguments from well-known theologians such as Charles Hodge and A.A. Hodge, Clark proposes that God chose Adam to be the representative of the human race through a sovereign choice of His and His alone, and defines justice in terms of sovereignty rather than leaving justice as some rule or attribute that impugned on God s sovereignty. Representation can rest on divine sovereignty alone. 5

6 Clark then moves to the concept of traducianism, in an attempt to connect the origin of souls with federal headship and the imputation of guilt from Adam. Both Hodges (Charles and A.A.) are creationists, meaning that they teach that each successive human soul is immediately created by God in billions of cases, in billions of acts of creation. Clark argues for traducianism, meaning that the souls of children are creations from the parents immediately, just as the parents create the body of the child. Creationism allows the physical connection between us and Adam, while traducianism allows for a physical as well as spiritual connection between us and Adam. Jus as the bodies of children are derived from their parents bodies, their immaterial souls are also derived from their parents immaterial souls. Tying this all together is the concept of the sovereignty of God. Justice itself is based on sovereignty. This includes the idea that the atonement was absolutely necessary. There is no power, circumstance, or principle external to God that necessitates or even induces him to do anything. Because some people are confused, they seem to forget God is immutable. God s will and action are unalterable. God has never made a decision in the human sense, never learned anything, and never changed his mind. He knows everything from eternity. Clark again supplies a myriad of verses to substantiate his conclusions. From God s immutability and His omniscience, it follows necessarily that there is indeed no other possible method of salvation. Every detail of every part of the plan is part of God s all-comprehensive divine decree. God foreordains everything that comes to pass. Everything is necessary. This view exalts the sovereignty of God. To suppose that 6

7 anything could have been otherwise is to suppose that God could have been otherwise than he is. The salvation of the elect is a part of the sovereign plan by which the universe goes on. God s omniscience demonstrates all events are certain. In a concluding section on the extent of the atonement, Clark discusses and demonstrates the Scriptural and logical conclusion that Christ died to specifically save the elect and no others. If a person does not believe in universal salvation, then he must believe that some are saved and others are not. If these people are lost, one must ask if Christ died for them. The answer has to be no. Arminians teach that Christ died not to save some, but to make salvation possible for all. Therefore, according to Arminians, Christ never actually procured reconciliation for anyone. He merely removed the obstacle of divine justice so as to make all mankind salvable. His death was not intended to save anyone, and his death secured salvation for no one. Salvation is therefore an additional work of man s free will. However, it is clear from Scripture that the Holy Spirit applies redemption to us, that he resurrects the dead sinner, changes a man s depraved will to a believing will, and works faith in us. 7

sinners. Jesus Christ suffered on behalf of certain sinners. He represented certain sinners. He suffered as a vicarious sacrifice.

sinners. Jesus Christ suffered on behalf of certain sinners. He represented certain sinners. He suffered as a vicarious sacrifice. God says in Mark 16:16 that those who do not believe the gospel are unregenerate. He says in 1 Corinthians 15:3 that the gospel includes the truth that Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures.

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