actively offering

Hugh Martin in his work on the atonement devotes a chapter to ‘Christ’s priestly action in his death.’

… in this transaction of the death at Calvary he combined the two apparently antagonistic attitudes of suffering and offering – suffering unto such extent and such intensity as would have quelled all the active powers … of any but a divine person; and offering also in such activity, and such unquelled and excelling triumphant action, as if no suffering were making drain upon his active powers at all – this is the apparent paradox in the death of Christ …

[Terms like his ‘passion’ concentrate attention on the aspect in which Christ appears as the victim, only enduring and being subjected to suffering.] We must never cease to affirm that this representation of the cross is most inadequate. It exhibits the cross as the emblem and scene of patience merely, while it conceals those glorious and glorifying aspects of it in which it is seen to be an altar of priestly agency, a throne of powerful action, and a chariot of victory and triumph. It represents Christ’s activity as subdued and overborne, or at least in abeyance. It [omits to mention] the grand consideration … that Christ’s actual putting forth of power, and his official, and obedient, and positive agency … prevailed to put forth their energy … precisely against an inconceivable combination of agencies and instruments naturally fitted, had that been possible, to subdue and overbear them. Earth, and hell, and heaven: earth’s rulers and her rabble; her kings, and priests, and soldiers, and malefactors assailing him; her Jews and Gentiles; her dumb creatures even; earth’s forests furnishing wood, earth’s streams refusing water, earth’s bitterness mingled in vinegar and gall, earth’s curse embodied in her thorns, in mockery and pain to crown him, earth’s founded steadfastness refusing to support him, and her firmament to shine upon him; hell’s utmost force and fury gathered up against him; heaven’s sword devouring him, heaven’s God forsaking him – earth, and hell, and heaven thus in conspiring action against him, unto the uttermost of heaven’s extremest justice and earth’s and hell’s extremest injustice – what is the glory of the cross, if it be not this, that with such action conspiring to subdue his action, his action outlasted and outlived them all, and he did not die subdued and overborne into dying, he did not die till he gave himself to death? Emmanuel a mere sufferer in his death! ‘The Logos of the Cross is the Power of God.’

Among some of the more obvious testimonies to the doctrine that the death of Christ was an action of his priestly office may be reckoned the assertion of Isaiah that ‘he poured out his soul unto death;’ the phrases frequently used by the apostle Paul, that ‘he loved the Church and gave himself for it,’ and, specialising this love and loving service to the individual believer, ‘he loved me, and gave himself for me;’ and again, ‘Christ also hath loved us, and hath delivered himself for us an offering and sacrifice to God for a sweet smelling savour,’ and again, ‘when he had by himself purged our sins.’ The doxology of John: ‘Unto him that loved us and washed us from our sins in his own blood.’ The frequent expressions of the Lord himself: ‘The Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his live a ransom for many;’ and, very specially, his ever-memorable account of himself as the Good Shepherd, ‘The good shepherd giveth his life for his sheep.’ So solicitous is our Lord on this point that he repeats it again and again, in the strongest and most emphatic terms, positive and negative alike: ‘No one taketh it from me, I lay it down of myself.’ And so powerfully does he bring out the idea of his own agency being concerned in his death that he places it on a level with the agency he should put forth in his resurrection, and represents obedient action equally in the two cases as constituting jointly what his Father’s commandment had enjoined up on him, and what his Father’s love and approbation rested in so complacently: ‘Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No one taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself – at my own instance, of my own will, by my own deed – I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment received I of my Father.’

In the unseen spiritual world, while his body was hanging on the cross, he was ‘pouring out his soul unto death,’ in spontaneous action of his own, as self-instigated, self-sustained, self-controlled as was that of Aaron when he [brought the two goats]. No priest ‘standing daily ministering and offering often times’ was ever more free from coercion in his office, or so gloriously active in discharging it, as this man when he offered one sacrifice for sins. Nor did this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins, for ever sit down on the right hand of God a more free and more powerful agent than when he offered that sacrifice which earned him the throne. We speak of his ‘doing’ and his ‘dying.’ His dying was his grandest doing. The light and evidence of his active obedience, instead of paling on the cross, shines out there most brilliantly of all – shining down the darkness of death, and of the frown of incensed justice, till the dark frown passes off from the face of the Eternal Judge, and the light of a Father’s countenance is lifted on the obedient Son in the moment of his saying, ‘Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit.’ The Father’s will is done. It is done by the Eternal Son, through the Eternal Spirit. Consentient actings of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost fill the death of Christ with action and with power unparalleled and transcendent; and the Logos of the cross is the power of God.

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Hugh Martin, The Atonement: in its relations to the Covenant, the Priesthood, the Intercession of our Lord. First published 1870. These excerpts from the Knox Press reprint, 1976 (minus verse references; italics original).

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friends and enemies

At the time when Pilate and Herod made friends, there was an astonishing contrast between the united front of the enemies of Jesus and the complete disarray of his friends. (‘And the same day Pilate and Herod were made friends together: for before they were at enmity between themselves,’ Luke 23: 12.)

At this time, the kings and princes of the earth were combining and conspiring against the Lord’s Anointed. Judas betrayed him to an armed squad of chief priests, captains of the temple, and elders. The whole multitude of the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes took him to Pilate. Herod and his men of war set him at nought and mocked him. The people all shouted together that he should be crucified. All these groups coalesced in their desire to have Jesus destroyed. Whatever normally divided them, they now discovered a common cause in wanting rid of him.

Meanwhile, Jesus stood alone. The disciples had fled and scattered. Their perplexity and confusion must have been extreme – they had trusted that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel, and that now seemed impossible. It must have been incomprehensible, not to mention how the circumstances were so shocking and so humiliating. Their Saviour was being put to death as if he was a common criminal, and who could fathom what that would mean for the trustworthiness of God or their soul’s salvation.

But the reality of the whole situation was nothing like how it appeared on the surface. On the one hand, the isolation of Jesus’ followers was quite illusory. In fact, this was the one time when their oneness and unity was most starkly real. Although Jesus was standing alone, he was standing for them all. They were all gathered up together in him, and taking them as a most complete whole he was caring for them, acting for them, and holding them completely safe. He looked, and there was none to help, and he wondered that there was none to uphold – therefore his own arm brought salvation. He died for us, they would later realise. It was one for the many. As he was their covenant representative, the interests of these many, their pasts, their sins, their futures, their souls’ salvation, were all condensed and concentrated into one burden that he carried alone, and everything for them depended on how he would succeed in what happened on the cross.

And on the cross, on their behalf, he was successful – a conqueror, victorious. Not just that he suffered voluntarily (although there is something impressive about voluntary suffering), and not just that he complied with the Father’s will and fulfilled all the prophecies about himself. He was victorious on the cross in the sense that he actually achieved what he had to do, and really defeated his and his people’s enemies. He actually made atonement, he actually propitiated the wrath of God and actually expiated their sins. He really and truly spoiled principalities and powers, triumphing over them in his cross. All he did was for his people – all those innumerable individuals collected together and considered as lined up behind him, sheltering under his care, carried on his strong shoulders, united to him, identified as one with him.

Meanwhile, the united front of his enemies was itself a facade. Although they all had in common an inveterate hostility to God, they each took their own way of expressing it, and combined with the others only to the extent that it suited their own selfish ends. Everyone on the broad way carves out their own track to walk in, and the root cause of their befriending any fellow travellers is never honestly altruistic. Although it is a fact that they too have their own covenant representative in Adam, this is something they grudge against and resent – they would disown their first father if they could, so as to stand on their own two feet and speak in their own defence, no matter how impotent and incompetent they are to do so. This all-consuming impulse to individualism means that they accept neither their own covenant representative, Adam, nor the only other possible covenant representative, Christ. In spite of Christ being a fully qualified Saviour who invariably saves to the uttermost, it’s the hardest thing of all for a sinner to entrust themselves to him – the most entrenched position of the sinner’s heart is their determined resistance against giving up their autonomy to anyone else on the question of their soul’s salvation, their wilful insistence on staying responsible for their own eternal destiny, even though the strategy is suicidal.

So although a Pilate and a Herod may temporarily join forces to reject the Lord and his Anointed, there is ultimately no more lonely place than to stand in opposition to Jesus. In the confrontation between individual me and the holy God, there is no question but that things are hopeless for that sinful puny I – and that that hopelessness persists however many other individuals also choose to array themselves against him. The only thing that guarantees a lasting and honourable solidarity, or meaningful acceptance, belonging, togetherness, is oneness with Christ – it’s the oneness of his people in Jesus that overrides all their differences, and makes it certain that they all will be forgiven and kept eternally safe. It’s because he lives, that they will live also.