Charles Spurgeon and the|
Awesome Power of the Atonement
by Michael Wine
ver the centuries there have been preachers of the Bible that have rocked civilization. Preachers like Martin Luther and John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield. These men were used by God to pierce the hearts of countless individuals with the Word of God and to bring them to belief and repentance. Looking back through church history, however, one preacher stands out as the prince of them all. Charles Spurgeon, the prince of preachers himself, the pastor of the Metropolitan Tabernacle, whose writings are the most published of any Christian writer besides the Bible to this day, was this man. But after all of his accomplishments and successes, under the strong exterior, past all of the eloquence and flowery phases, was an ordinary man who had sins, shortcomings and failures. The key to Spurgeon, the secret of the passion he had for the gospel and the power behind his preaching lies not in the man himself but in the doctrine he believed. Specifically, Spurgeon held the doctrine of the atonement of Jesus Christ to be the center of his life and ministry. The thing that permeates all of his work is the fact that a person is redeemed by the blood of Jesus. He says in one sermon that "The doctrine of Redemption is one of the most important doctrines of the system of faith. A mistake on this point will inevitably lead to a mistake through the entire system of our belief." [Spurgeon, "Particular Redemption"] Through exploring what Spurgeon believed about this great doctrine in a number of his sermons and written works, we will discover again the power, love, majesty, wrath, grace and mercy of our Savior's atonement. And by sharing his high view of the atonement, our lives will be richly blessed with the same kind of fullness and power that drove Spurgeon. That is, the risen Lord Jesus Himself will dwell with us and enable us to reach the world with a proclamation of His majesty; He who died to set the captives free!
It Starts with Sin
Of course, to have a proper knowledge and admiration for the grace of God, one must have a deep understanding of the wretchedness of sin. Spurgeon knew this fact well. He says, " . . . we shall see that the redemption of Christ was no little thing, if we do but measure it, first by our own sins." [Spurgeon, "Particular Redemption"] This follows reason. To understand the magnitude of the salvation, one must understand the enormity of the thing to be saved from. To fully grasp the need for salvation, we must examine 1) the offensiveness of sin 2) the punishment sin deserves and 3) the imputation of sin onto Christ.
There was never an ill word spoken, nor an ill thought conceived, nor an evil deed done, for which God will not have punishment from some one or another. He will either have satisfaction from you, or else from Christ. If you have no atonement to bring through Christ, you must for ever lie paying the debt which you never can pay, in eternal misery; for as surely as God is God, He will sooner lose His Godhead than suffer one sin to go unpunished, or one particle of rebellion unrevenged. [Spurgeon, "Particular Redemption"]
Every "particle of rebellion" must be punished. God would not be God if he did not punish sin. This is a crucial point in the doctrine of the atonement. Many will say, "God is love! He will forgive everyone!" Not so! Forgiveness is not possible without punishment for sin. The dilemma, then, is if every sin must be punished, that would seem to indicate that no one can be saved!
Thirdly, the answer to the dilemma is the heart of the atonement, namely, the substitution of Christ. Our sin, in fact, the world's sin must be placed on Christ if anyone will be forgiven of the infinite offense of sin. This is what Spurgeon believed. This is what made his preaching and ministry so powerful in the lives of many people. One can almost hear his thunderous voice preaching the next words in one of his sermons,
Oh! then, beloved, think how great must have been the substitution of Christ, when it satisfied God for all the sins of His people. For man's sin God demands eternal punishment; and God hath prepared a Hell into which He casts those who die impenitent. Oh! my brethren, can ye think what must have been the greatness of the atonement which was the substitution for all this agony which God would have cast upon us, if He had not poured it upon Christ. [Spurgeon, "Particular Redemption"]
The agony that the sins of the elect deserved was placed on Christ. He was punished as if he were guilty of the sin that another committed. Such grace is incalculable and indescribable! But this is only part of the answer to the question of, "how can I be forgiven of sin?" For, in order for a substitution of guilt to take place, the person on whom the guilt will be placed must be a perfect man, otherwise the sacrifice is void. However, all men have sinned! Therefore, God the Son had to become a man and die. "But turn aside and see this great sight!an incarnate God upon the cross; a substitute atoning for mortal guilt; a sacrifice satisfying the vengeance of heaven, and delivering the rebellious sinner." [Spurgeon, "Christ Crucified," Spurgeon's Sermons Volume 1] Spurgeon, here, lays out this truth that Jesus was "a sacrifice satisfying the vengeance of heaven." This is because He was a perfect sacrifice. He was the "incarnate God" who bore the sin of man!
The Price Jesus Paid
Once one has contemplated the sin in his own heart, and once he has realized that Jesus took all the punishment for him, he must then meditate on the actual price Jesus Himself paid for him. Spurgeon emphasizes two elements that are involved in the price Jesus paid: 1) His physical suffering 2) His soul's distress.
And now they take Him, and with many a jeer and jibe they drive Him from the place, and hurry Him through the streets. Emaciated by continual fastings, and depressed with agony of spirit He stumbles beneath His cross. Daughters of Jerusalem! He faints in your streets. They raise Him up; they put His cross upon another's shoulders, and they urge Him on, perhaps with many a spear-prick, till at last He reaches the mount of doom. Rough soldiers seize Him, and hurl Him on His back; the transverse wood is laid beneath Him; His arms are stretched to reach the necessary distance; the nails are grasped; four hammers at one moment drive four nails through the tenderest parts of His body; and there He lies upon His own place of execution dying on His cross. It is not done yet. The cross is lifted by the rough soldiers. There is the socket prepared for it. It is dashed into its place: they fill up the place with earth; and there it stands. [Spurgeon, "Particular Redemption"]
This is the pain he willingly took for those He loved. Roman crucifixion is one of the most painful deaths imaginable. It is beyond imagining in its horror. All the children of God must regularly contemplate the price Jesus paid for them.
This, however, leads to the second element of Christ's sacrifice, namely, His soul's distress. It is almost within the limits of the human mind to imagine the physical duress His body went through. However, it is infinitely beyond the frail mind of man to grasp the torment of Jesus' soul in those final moments of His life. Spurgeon gives us a glimpse of this agony:
I can never express that thought better than by using those oft-repeated words: it seemed as if Hell were put into His cup; He seized it, and, "At one tremendous draught of love, He drank damnation dry." So that there was nothing left of all the pangs and miseries of Hell for His people ever to endure. I say not that He suffered the same, but He did endure an equivalent for all this, and gave God the satisfaction for all the sins of all His people, and consequently gave Him an equivalent for all their punishment. Now can ye dream, can ye guess the great redemption of our Lord Jesus Christ? [Spurgeon, "Particular Redemption"]
For all eternity Christians will be exploring the depths of the mystery of the cross. God's children will never cease wondering at "the great redemption of our Lord Jesus Christ." Spurgeon makes a crucial doctrinal point in this excerpt as well. He mentions that Christ did not "suffer the same" as the souls in hell. That is, He did not go into hell and be tormented with that damming fire. Instead, by taking the punishment of the sins of his people, Jesus "did endure an equivalent for all this, and gave God the satisfaction for all the sins of all his people." This is the price Jesus paid. He bore the wrath that was to be poured out on us. It is beyond mankind's ability to plumb the depths of this wondrous, horrible, majestic act.
The Power of Christ's Atonement
"Standing at the foot of the cross, we see hands, and feet, and side, all distilling crimson streams of precious blood." [Spurgeon, Morning and Evening] The riches of grace that can be found when looking at the cross and at Jesus hanging on it, bearing God's divine anger, are infinitely great. However, one can still ask the question, "What did Jesus' death really do for me? Spurgeon said it was 'precious.' What specifically makes it precious for me today?" Spurgeon's outlines in his devotional book Morning and Evening [April 16th entry] five ways the blood of Christ is precious.
Because of its redeeming and atoning efficacy
Because of its cleansing power
Because of its preserving power
Because of its sanctifying influence
Because of its overcoming power
The blood of Jesus! We shall march on conquering to conquer, so long as we trust its power!.
Spurgeon, Charles H. Morning and Evening. Classic KJV Edition. Hendrickson Publishers, Inc. December 1995.
Spurgeon, Charles H. Spurgeon's Sermons Volume 1. Christian Classic Ethereal Library. 1855
Spurgeon, Charles H. "Particular Redemption." Music Hall, Royal Surrey Gardens. 1858. http://www.romans45.org/sermons/0181.htm.