EXTENT OF THE ATONEMENT.
"My little children, these things write I to you, that you sin not. And if any man sin we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world." --- 1 John ii. 1, 2.
Of the Incarnation of the Word, of the whole previous strain of solemn oracular annunciation, there are two great objects. Rightly understood it at once stimulates and soothes; it supplies inducements to holiness, and yet quiets the accusing heart. (1) It urges to a pervading holiness in each recurring circumstance of life. "That you may not sin" is the bold universal language of the morality of God. Men only understand moral teaching when it comes with a series of monographs on the virtues, sobriety, chastity, and the rest. Christianity does not overlook these, but it comes first with all-inclusive principles. The morality of man is like the sculptor working line by line and part by part, partially and successively. The morality of God is like nature, and works in every part of the flower and tree with a sort of ubiquitous presence. "These things write we to you." No dead letter --- a living spirit infuses the lines; there is a deathless principle behind the words which will vitalize and[Pg 103] permeate all isolated relations and developments of conduct. "These things write we to you that you may not sin."
(2) But further, this announcement also soothes. There may be isolated acts of sin against the whole tenor of the higher and nobler life. There may be, God forbid! --- but it may be --- some glaring act of inconsistency. In this case the Apostle uses a form of expression which includes himself, "we have," and yet points to Christ, not to himself, "we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ" --- and that in view of His being One who is perfectly and simply righteous; "and He is the propitiation for our sins."
Then, as if suddenly fired by a great thought, St. John's view broadens over the whole world beyond the limits of the comparatively little group of believers whom his words at that time could reach. The Incarnation and Atonement have been before his soul. The Catholic Church is the correlative of the first, humanity of the second. The Paraclete whom he beheld is ever in relation with, ever turned towards the Father. His propitiation is, and He is it. It was not simply a fact in history which works on with unexhaustible force. As the Advocate is ever turned towards the Father, so the propitiation lives on with unexhausted life. His intercession is not verbal, temporary, interrupted. The Church, in her best days, never prayed --- "Jesus, pray for me!" It is interpretative, continuous, unbroken. In time it is eternally valid, eternally present. In[Pg 104] space it extends as far as human need, and therefore takes in every place. "Not for our sins only," but for men universally, "for the whole world."
It is implied then in this passage, that Christ was intended as a propitiation for the whole world; and that He is fitted for satisfying all human wants.
(1) Christ was intended for the whole world. Let us see the Divine intention in one incident of the crucifixion. In that are mingling lines of glory and of humiliation. The King of humanity appears with a scarlet camp-mantle flung contemptuously over His shoulders; but to the eye of faith it is the purple of empire. He is crowned with the acanthus wreath; but the wreath of mockery is the royalty of our race. He is crucified between two thieves; but His cross is a Judgment-Throne, and at His right hand and His left are the two separated worlds of belief and unbelief. All the Evangelists tell us that a superscription, a title of accusation, was written over His cross; two of them add that it was written over Him "in letters of Greek, and Latin, and Hebrew" (or in Hebrew, Greek, Latin). In Hebrew --- the sacred tongue of patriarchs and seers, of the nation all whose members were in idea and destination those of whom God said, "My prophets." In Greek --- the "musical and golden tongue which gave a soul to the objects of sense and a body to the abstractions of philosophy;" the language of a[Pg 105] people whose mission it was to give a principle of fermentation to all races of mankind, susceptible of those subtle and largely indefinable influences which are called collectively Progress. In Latin --- the dialect of a people originally the strongest of all the sons of men. The three languages represent the three races and their ideas --- revelation, art, literature; progress, war, and jurisprudence. Beneath the title is the thorn-crowned head of the ideal King of humanity.
Wherever these three tendencies of the human race exist, wherever annunciation can be made in human language, wherever there is a heart to sin, a tongue to speak, an eye to read, the cross has a message. The superscription, "written in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin," is the historical symbol translated into its dogmatic form by St. John --- "He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the whole world."
From The Epistles Of St. John by WILLIAM ALEXANDER, D.D., D.C.L. Oxon., Hon. LL.D. Dublin, published by Hodder and Stoughton, 27, Paternoster Row, MDCCCXCVI Lightly updated to the language of the 21st century by D. N. Pham. (c) 2012.
Insights of the past for the present
Epistles of John 1/2 - W. Alexander
ON THE BOOK SHELF
May your insights be worthy.