Jesus Our Mediator – Reflections from Abraham Booth

Taken from chapter 11 of Abraham Booth’s The Reign of Grace. Booth writes concerning the person of Christ in his atoning work.

“It was absolutely necessary also, that our Mediator and Surety should be God as well as man. For as he could neither have obeyed, nor suffered, if he had not possessed a created nature; so, had he been a mere man, however immaculate, he could not have redeemed one soul. Nay, though he had possessed the highest possible created excellencies, they would not have been sufficient; because he would still have been a dependent being. For as it is essential to Deity, to be underived and self-existent; so it is essential to a creature, to be derived and dependent. The loftiest seraph that sings in glory is as really dependent on God, every moment of his existence, as the meanest worm that crawls. In this respect, an angel and an insect are on a level. Every intelligent creature, therefore, whether human or angelic, having received existence from the Almighty, and being continually dependent on him, as the all-producing, all-supporting first cause; must be obliged to perpetual obedience, by virtue of that relation in which he stands to God, as his Maker and Preserver. It is highly absurd to suppose it possible for any creature to supererogate, or to do more in a way of obedience to Him from whom his all was received, than he is under the strongest obligations to perform, in consequence of his absolute and universal dependence. But whatever is previously due from any one, on his own account, cannot be transferred to another, without rendering the first devoid of that obedience which it is absolutely necessary for him to have. Universal obedience, in every possible instance, is so necessary in a rational creature, as such, being dependent on God and created for his glory, that the omission of it, in any degree, would not only be criminal, but expose to everlasting ruin.

The righteousness, therefore, of a mere creature, however highly exalted, could not have been accepted by the Great Supreme, as any compensation for our obedience. Because whoever undertakes to perform a vicarious righteousness, must be one who is not obliged to obedience on his own account. Consequently, our Surety must be a Divine Person; for every mere creature is under indispensable obligations to perfect and perpetual obedience. Now, as our situation required, so the gospel reveals, a Mediator and Substitute thus exalted and glorious. For Jesus is described as a Divine Person, as one who could, without any arrogance, or the least disloyalty, claim independence; and, when thus considered, he appears fit for the task. But of such an One we could have had no idea, without that distinction of Persons in the Godhead which the Scriptures reveal. Agreeably to this distinction, we behold the rights of Deity asserted and vindicated, with infinite majesty and authority, in the person of the Father; while we view every Divine perfection displayed and honoured, in the most illustrious manner, by the amazing condescension of the eternal Son: By the humiliation of Him who, in his lowest state of subjection, could claim an equality with God. Such being the dignity of our wonderful Sponsor, it was by his own voluntary condescension that he became incarnate, and took upon him the form of a servant. By the same free act of his will he was made under the law, to perform that obedience in our stead, to which, as a Divine Person, he was no way obliged.

The necessity there was that our Surety should be a Divine Person, might be further proved, by considering the infinite evil there is in sin. That sin is an infinite evil, appears from hence. Every crime is more or less heinous, in proportion as we are under obligations to the contrary. For the criminality of any disposition, or action, consists in a contrariety to what we ought to possess, or perform. If, therefore, we hate, disobey, or dishonour any person, the sin is always proportional to the obligations we are under to love, to honour, and to obey him. Now the obligations we are under to love, to honour, and to obey any person, are in proportion to his loveliness, his dignity, and his authority. Of this, none can doubt. If then infinite beauty, dignity, and authority belong to the immensely glorious God; we must be under equal obligations to love, to honour, and to obey him; and a contrary conduct must be infinitely criminal. Sin, therefore, is a violation of infinite obligation to duty; consequently an unlimited evil, and deserving of infinite punishment. Such being the nature of our offences, and of the aggravations attending them, we stand in absolute need of a surety, the worth of whose obedience and sufferings should be equal to the unworthiness of our persons, and to the demerit of our disobedience. If to the evil there is in every sin, we take into consideration the vast number of sinners that were to be redeemed; the countless millions of enormous crimes that were to be expiated; and the infinite weight of Divine wrath that was to be sustained; all which were to be completed in a limited and short time, in order to reconcile man to God, and to effect his eternal salvation; we shall have still stronger evidence in proof of the point.

Were a defence of the proper Deity of Christ my intention, the Scriptures would furnish me with ample matter and abundant evidence in favour of the capital truth. For the names that he bears, the perfections ascribed to him, the works he has done, and the honours he has received, loudly proclaim his ETERNAL DIVINITY. But I wave the attempt, and proceed to observe,

That it was necessary our Surety should be God and man, in unity of person. This necessity arises from the nature of his work; which is that of a Mediator between God, the offended Sovereign, and man, the offending subject. If he had not been a partaker of the Divine nature, he could not have been qualified to treat with God; if not of the human, he would not have been fitted to treat with man. Deity alone was too high to treat with man; humanity alone was too low to treat with God. The eternal Son therefore assumed our nature, that he might become a middle person; and so be rendered capable of laying his hands upon both, (Job 9:33) and of bringing them into a state of perfect friendship. He could not have been a mediator, in regard to his office, if he had not been a middle-person, in respect of his natures. Such is the constitution of his wonderful person, and hence he is called IMMANUEL God with us, or in our nature.”

Haldane, Atonement, and the Watchtower

James Haldane wrote the following in his 1845 book, The Doctrine of the Atonement. He sees, as if by prescience, the tomfoolery of the Watchtower concerning the atonement, and destroys their vain imaginings with the glory of our Creator Redeemer.

No creature could have made an atonement for sin, or have magnified the law either by obedience or suffering. Had a body been prepared for the highest angel, his incarnation must have been an act of obedience to his Creator; and after all his humiliation, and all his sufferings, he would have been an unprofitable servant; he could have done no more than his duty. His righteousness, therefore, could not have extended to another; he could have had no superfluous merit, neither could he have offered himself a voluntary sacrifice; he could not have laid down his life, for no creature has power over his own life. No created being could have endured the curse of the broken law, or have stood as the substitute and surety of another; for every creature must bear his own burden. But the Creator, in whom was life, of whose sovereign will the law is but the expression, appeared in the form of a servant; by his obedience unto death, he magnified and made honorable the law which his people had broken; thus restoring what he took not away. In obedience to his Father’s commandment, he laid down his life, that he might take it again, and rose to the power of an endless life, as the first-born of many brethren, to whom he was in all things conformed.

Such is the foundation which God has laid in Sion for the hope of the guilty. Such is the everlasting righteousness in which Christ’s people shall stand unrebukable. It “differs entirely from the righteousness of men and angels in its AUTHOR; for it is the righteousness not of a creature, but of the Creator. I the Lord have created it. It is a divine and infinitely perfect righteousness, wrought out by Jehovah himself, which, in the salvation of man, preserves all his attributed inviolate. The Father created it through the Son, in the same was as by the Son he created the world.

J.A. Haldane; The Doctrine of the Atonement; pp 44-45

The Atonement, Its Meaning & Significance

I’ve spent several hours this month with the late Leon Morris. It has been time well spent. You will typically find high recommendations for his scholarly work The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross. For all of the glowing and deserved recommendations, it is written targeting an education level that most of the church never reaches. Like climbing Everest, you need to bring along theological oxygen bottles to survive the rarefied atmosphere. Recognizing the limiting nature of that work for evangelicals in general, Morris set out to bring the hay down out of the loft so we all might ruminate and benefit from his work. He succeeded.

The Atonement, Its Meaning & Significance is a book about the cross for the rest of us. Morris throws biblical light on the death of Messiah using the lamps of covenant, sacrifice, the Day of Atonement, Passover, redemption, reconciliation, propitiation, and justification. Each lamp has a different hue, emphasizing its own aspect of the atonement. Morris is unapologetic about using a broad palette. Only by using a wide range of biblical language can he paint a rich portrait to help us understand and appreciate the length, breadth, and depth of God’s solution to mankind’s evil and rebellion.

One chapter stands out for me, not for devotional value, but for the devotion Morris shows in pursuing important concepts. I’m thinking specifically of his chapter on propitiation. C.H. Dodd’s efforts to empty the New Testament of God’s personal wrath has had a deep impact on the church today. Morris brings the scholarly material to bear in a simplified manner and contributes several helpful insights. In doing so, he contemplates the differing semantics of propitiation v. expiation. Morris makes a strong case that our understanding of the atonement is meaningfully diminished if we omit God’s righteous indignation. This one chapter is enough to display the profound insights that Morris developed over years of interaction with Dodd’s work.

Morris combines a clear writing style with delightful little glimpses of his own personality. I could almost see him shake his head or chuckle a little under his breath. A couple of times his wry sense of humor rises to mock our foolishness. The book is about 200 pages long. It’s helpful. I recommend it for your consideration. Following are some morsels served up to whet your appetite.

“The cross is central to Christianity.”

“The witness (to a covenant) was not an independent figure who could speak up and testify to the fact and terms of the covenant. The witness was rather something that served to remind the participants of what they had done.”

“Every Christian enters the covenant by faith, and here the references to the covenant with Abraham as of continuing force are important. Abraham is the classic example of faith for the New Testament writers and to be involved in the covenant with Abraham means to live by faith as that patriarch did. Not all the descendants of Abraham were caught up in his covenant with God, and Paul specifically makes the point that in the sense that matters Abraham’s children are those who believe, whether they are his physical descendants or not, whether they are circumcised or not. And, of course, a consideration of the place of faith in the covenant calls us to consider the reality of our faith. Without faith, there is no membership in the covenant.”

“Ancients like me remember that during the years of the Second World War we were frequently called upon to make sacrifices to assist our country. That meant forgoing comfort and pay rises and it involved making do with inferior substitutes instead of insisting on the superior article; on occasion it meant going without something altogether.”

“The worshipper laid his hand on the head of the (sacrificial) animal. The Hebrew verb means something like leaning on the animal. It was a firm contact, not a casual touch. The meaning of this is disputed. Some hold that it meant that the worshipper was identifying himself with the offering. If this is the way of it, the action said, ‘This is my sacrifice. This is the animal I am offering.’ It certainly did this at least. But others think that the action was a symbolic transferral of the sins of the worshipper to the animal, so that when it died it was taking the punishment due to the worshipper for his sins. It was being treated as the sins it bore deserved. They hold that this is the obvious symbolism and that it is supported by the fact that in later times at least there are passages which tell us that, as the worshipper laid his hands on the animal, he confessed his sins. It is not easy to see what the laying on of hands means if there is no symbolic transfer to the animal which was to die of the sins being confessed.”

“Nobody who came thoughtfully to God by the way of sacrifice could be in any doubt but that sin was a serious matter. It could not be put aside by a light-hearted wave of the hand but required the shedding of blood.”

“The term (redemption) as used in the all-pervasive Greek culture of antiquity had its origin in the practices of warfare. When people went to war in ancient times they lacked the refinements of our modern civilization. They had no atom bombs, no poison gas, no germ warfare. But in their own humble way they did what they could to make life uncomfortable for one another. One of the happy little customs was that, when battle was over, the victors sometimes rode around the battlefield rounding up as many of the vanquished as they could. Then they took them off as slaves. It meant a tidy profit and an increase in the spoils of war, though I guess the new slaves did not like it much.”

“The two concepts (propitiation and expiation) are really very different. Propitiation means the turning away of anger; expiation is rather the making amends for a wrong. Propitiation is a personal word; one propitiates a person. Expiation is an impersonal word; one expiates a sin or a crime.”

“An important idea in the New Testament is that righteousness may be imputed. There are grounds for imputation in an Old Testament passage, that in which we read, ‘Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness’. This presents a problem to some modern people, because we so firmly believe that righteousness is an ethical quality. It is ‘being good’. In that sense, it is nonsense to talk about righteousness being imputed. Everyone who aspires to this kind of righteousness must merit it for himself, by right living. It cannot be ‘credited’ or ‘reckoned’ or ‘imputed’ to him other than in some fictitious and fanciful sense. But when we see righteousness as basically legal, as ‘right-standing’, it is another matter. A standing or status can be conferred. The narrative says that God conferred this status on Abraham because of his faith. Paul uses this as his classic example of justification by faith. Abraham received his ‘right-standing’ not on account of any meritorious action but simply because he trusted God.”