2. Redemption from the Curse of the Law. The curse of the law does not mean that the law is a curse. The law is holy and just and good (Rom. 7:13), but, because so, it exacts penalty for every infraction of its demands. The curse of the law is the curse it pronounces upon transgressors (Gal. 3:10). The law's penal sanction is as inviolable as its demands. To this sanction as it bears upon us redemption is directed. "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us" (Gal. 3:13). Nowhere in Scripture is the price of redemption more forcefully portrayed than in this text. It reminds us that the cost was not merely the death of Christ and the shedding of His blood but these in the circumstance of Golgotha's shame — He was "made a curse for us." We cannot measure the intensity of the reproach nor fathom the humiliation. To be unmoved before the spectacle is to be insensitive to the sanctions of holiness, the marvels of love, and the wonder of angels.
It is because we are ransomed from the curse of the law that we are represented as having died to the law (Rom. 7:6; Gal. 2:19), as put to death to the law (Rom. 7:4), and as discharged from the law (Rom. 7:6). We are released from the bondage of condemnation and are free to be justified apart from the law. The relation between redemption from sin in its guilt, defilement, and power and redemption from the curse of the law is intimate. For the strength of sin is the law (I Cor. 15:56).
In Galatians 4:5 it is redemption from the bondage of the ceremonial law that is specifically in view (cf. Gal. 3:23-4:3). It was by being made under this law that Christ redeemed those who were under it. He secured this release because He Himself fulfilled all the truth that was symbolically and typically set forth in the provisions of the levitical economy. These provisions were but shadows of the good things to come and, when that which they foreshadowed appeared, there was no need or place for the shadows themselves. This redemption has the fullest significance for all. By the faith of Jesus all without distinction enter into the full privilege of sons without the necessity of the disciplinary tutelage ministered by the Mosaic rites and ceremonies. This is the apex of privilege and blessing secured by Christ's redemption — we receive the adoption.
On several occasions in the New Testament the term "redemption" denotes the consummation of bliss realized at the advent of Christ in glory (Luke 21:28; Rom. 8:23; I Cor. 1:30; Eph. 1:14; 4:30). This shows how closely related to the redemption accomplished by Jesus' blood is the final fruition of the saving process and how the glory awaiting the people of God is conditioned by the thought of redemption.
IV. The Perfection. This characterization is concerned with the uniqueness, efficacy, and finality of the atonement. There is no repetition on the part of Christ Himself. "By one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified" (Heb. 10:14). He "was once offered to bear the sins of many" (Heb. 9:28). And there is no participation on the part of men or angels. It was He Himself "who bore our sins in his own body upon the tree" (I Pet. 2:24). The offering of Himself was a high priestly function to which only He, by reason of His unique person and dignity, was equal (cf. Heb. 7: 2-28). Christ is indeed our supreme example and it is also true that His unique accomplishments are adduced to illustrate and enforce the sum-total of devotion required of us. Nothing less than the whole-hearted commitment to the Father's will exemplified in His obedience unto death is demanded of us (cf. Matt. 20:27, 28; Phil. 2:5-8; I Pet. 2:21-24). But nowhere are we represented as following Him in the discharge of that which constitutes atonement, and we are not asked to do so. We are to be obedient to the utmost of divine demands as they bear upon us. But by our obedience no one is constituted righteous (cf. Rom. 5:19). We may have to die in loyalty to Christ and His example. But we do not thereby expiate guilt, propitiate wrath, reconcile the world to God, and secure redemption. All these categories belong exclusively to Christ. The atonement was likewise efficacious It was intrinsically adequate to the end designed. He purged our sins (Heb. 1:3). He reconciled us to God (Rom. 5:10). He accomplished redemption (Heb. 9:12; Rev. 5:9). He is the propitiation for our sins (I John 2:2). It was not a token obedience He rendered to God; He fulfilled all righteousness, and being made perfect He became the author of eternal salvation (Matt. 3:15; Heb. 5:9). It was not token sin-bearing that He endured; the Lord laid on Him the iniquities of us all and He bore our sins (Isa. 53:6, 11; I Pet. 2:24). The reconciliation He wrought was of such a character that it guarantees the consummating salvation (Rom. 5:9, 10; 8:32). He purchased the church by His blood and obtained eternal redemption (Acts 20:28; Heb. 9:12). The sum is that Christ by His own atoning work secured and insured the consummation that will be registered in the resurrection of life (cf. John 6:39).
V. The Extent. For whom did Christ die? Sober evaluation of the nature of the atonement and of its perfection leads to one conclusion. If it accomplished all that is implied in the categories by which it is defined and if it secures and insures the consummating redemption, the design must be coextensive with the ultimate result. If some fail of eternal salvation, as the Scripture plainly teaches, if they will not enjoy the final redemption, they cannot be embraced in that which procured and secured it. The atonement is so defined in terms of efficacious accomplishment that it must have the same extent as salvation bestowed and consummated. Unless we believe in the final restoration of all mankind, we cannot have an unlimited atonement. On the premise that some perish eternally we are shut up to one of two alternatives ? a limited efficacy or a limited extent; there is no such thing as an unlimited atonement.
It is true that many benefits accrue from the redemptive work of Christ to the non-elect in this life. It is in virtue of what Christ did that there is a gospel of salvation and this gospel is proclaimed freely to all without distinction. Untold blessings are dispensed to the world for the simple reason that God has his people in the world and is fulfilling in it His redemptive purpose. Christ is head over all things and it is in the exercise of His mediatorial lordship that He dispenses these blessings. But His lordship is the reward of His atoning work. Hence all the favors which even the reprobate receive in this life are related in one way or another to the atonement and may be said to flow from it. If so, they were designed to flow from it, and this means that the atonement embraced in its design the bestowment of these benefits upon the reprobate. But this is not to say that the atonement, in its specific character as atonement, is designed for the reprobate. It is one thing to say that certain benefits accrue to the reprobate from the atonement; it is entirely different to say that the atonement itself is designed for the reprobate. And the fallacy of the latter supposition becomes apparent when we remember that it is of the nature of the atonement to secure benefits which the reprobate never enjoy. In a word, the atonement is bound up with its efficacy in respect of obedience, expiation, propitiation, reconciliation, and redemption. When the Scripture speaks of Christ as dying for men, it is His vicarious death on their behalf that is in view and all the content which belongs to the atonement defines the significance of the formula "died for." Thus we may not say that He died for all men any more than that He made atonement for all men.
The restriction which applies to the extent of the atonement is borne out not only by the evidence pertaining to the nature of the atonement but also by passages which define its design. Nothing should be more obvious than that Jesus came into the world to save. He did not come to make salvation merely possible nor to make men salvable. Such a notion would contradict the express declarations of Jesus Himself and of other inspired witnesses (cf. Luke 19:10; John 6:39; Luke 2:11; John 3:17). The word of the angel to Joseph, "Thou shalt call his name Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins" (Matt. 1:21) implies the certitude of salvation and not mere possibility. And this certitude must, therefore, inhere in that by which He wrought salvation, namely, the atonement. Even John 3:16, so often appealed to in support of universal atonement, points to this same certitude and security. The purpose of giving the only-begotten Son is stated to be "that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." The import is that He makes infallibly secure the salvation of all who believe, and there is no suggestion that the design extended beyond the securing of that end. When Paul says that "Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it" (Eph. 5:25), he is alluding to Christ's sacrificial offering. But he also states the design: "that he might sanctify and cleanse it . . . that he might present it to himself a glorious church" (vss. 26, 27). The love spoken of here, the reference of the sacrificial offering, and the design are all restricted to the church. The design will certainly be fulfilled, and so the love and the giving of Himself achieve their object in the glorifying of that to which they were directed. It is impossible to universalize the reference of the sacrifice of Christ alluded to here; it is severly limited to those who will finally be holy and without blemish. Differentiation belongs to this text and therefore limitation, in a word, limited designed. In Romans 8:32, 34 we have references to the death of Christ and to its implications. The atonement is in view in the delivering Him up for us all (vs. 32) and in the clause, "Christ Jesus is the one who died" (vs. 34). But it is impossible to place these references to the intent and effect of the death of Christ outside the ambit so clearly established by the context and defined in terms of those predestinated to be conformed to the image of God's Son (vs. 29), the elect (vs. 33), and those embraced in the love of God which is in Christ Jesus (vs. 39). Besides, the delivering up (vs. 32) is that which insures the free bestowal of all things, the "all things" specified in the context as the blessings of salvation culminating in glorification. And the scope of the atonement cannot be more embracive than those other actions with which it is coordinated, namely, justification (vs. 33), the intercession of Christ (vs. 34), and indissoluble participation of the love of Christ (vs. 35). Much more evidence could be adduced directly from Scripture passages. These, however, suffice to show that the extent of the atonement cannot be made universal.
Universal terms are frequently used in connection with the death of Christ, as also in connection with the categories which define its import (cf. II Cor. 5:14, 15, 19; I Tim. 2:6; Heb. 2:9; I John 2:2). It is surprising that students of Scripture should with such ease appeal to these texts as if they determined the question in favor of universal atonement. The Scripture frequently uses universal terms when, obviously, they are not to be understood of all men inclusively and distributively or of all things inclusively. When we read in Genesis 6:13. "The end of all flesh is come before me," it is plain that this is not to be understood absolutely or inclusively. Not all flesh was destroyed. Or when Paul says that the trespass of Israel was the riches of the world (Rom. 11:12), he cannot be using the word "world" of all men distributively. Israel is not included, and not all Gentiles were partakers of the riches intended. When Paul says, "all things are lawful for me" (I Cor. 6:12; cf. 10:23), he did not mean that he was at liberty to do anything and everything. Examples could be multiplied and every person should readily perceive the implied restriction. An expression must always be interpreted in terms of the universe of discourse. Thus in Hebrew 2:9 the expression "every one on whose behalf Christ tasted death must be understood as referring to every one of whom the writer is speaking, namely, every one of the sons to be brought to glory, of the sanctified, of the children whom God has given to Christ and of whom He is not ashamed (vss. 10, 11, 12, 13). And it must not be overlooked that in II Corinthians 5:14, 15 the "all" for whom Christ died do not embrace any more than those who died in Him "one" died for all: therefore all died." In Paul's teaching to die with Christ is to die to sin (cf. Rom. 6:2-10).
The atonement is efficacious — it accomplishes redemption, it makes purification for sin, it reconciles to God, it secures the salvation of those for whom it was intended. Only on this premise is He the Saviour. Only on this basis is He freely offered as Saviour to all without distinction. It is not as Saviour He would be offered to all men if He did not actually save (cf. Matt. 1:21).
Conclusion. The atonement springs from the fountain of the Father's love; He commends His own love towards us. We must not think, however, that the action of the Father ended with the appointment and commission of the Son. He was not a mere spectator of Gethsemane and Calvary. The Father laid upon His own Son the iniquities of us all. He spared not His own Son but delivered Him up. He made Him to be sin for us. It was the Father who gave Him the cup of damnation to drink. God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself. Here is love supremely demonstrated.
No stronger expression appears in Scripture than this that God made Christ to be sin for us. We fall far short of a proper assessment of Christ's humiliation if we fail to appreciate this fact. It was not simply the penalty of sin that Jesus bore. He bore our sins. He was not made sinful, but He was made sin and, therefore, brought into the closest identification with our sins that it was possible for Him to come without thereby becoming Himself sinful. Any exposition of ours can only touch the fringe of this mystery. The liability with which the Lord of glory had to deal was not merely the penalty of sin but sin itself. And sin is the contradiction of God. What Jesus bore was the contradiction of what He was as both God and man. The recoil of Gethsemane (Matt. 26:39) was the inevitable recoil of His holy soul from the abyss of woe which sin-bearing involved. And His "nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt, bespeaks the intensity of His commitment to the extremities of Calvary, the bitter dregs of the cup given Him to drink. Here is love unspeakable; He poured out His soul unto death. Psalms 22 and 69 are the prophetic delineature of His agony, the gospel story is the inspired record of fulfilment, the apostolic witness the interpretation of its meaning. We cannot but seek to apprehend more and more of the mystery. The saints will be eternally occupied with it. But eternity will not fathom its depths nor exhaust its praise.