Colossians, Ephesians, 2 Corinthians.
The epistle to the Colossians has for its key-note the ninth and tenth verses of the second chapter — "In Him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. And ye are complete in Him." It is the fullness of Christ for the Christian. The first chapter gives us the first part of this, which it anticipates: "For all the fullness was pleased to dwell in Him." The second and third chapters show our completeness in Him: His death for us delivering us from our natural portion His resurrection bringing us into our portion now with God.
In the first chapter, the work of atonement is represented as for the reconciliation of heaven and earth, as well as having accomplished the reconciliation of all believers: "And having made peace through the blood of His cross, by Him to reconcile all things unto Himself, — by Him, I say, whether they be things on earth or things in heaven. And you, that were some time alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath He reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy and unblamable and unreprovable in His sight."
This doctrine of reconciliation is important as showing how far the need and value of the cross extend. In Romans already there is the statement that "when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son" but here it extends much more widely, and has to do, not merely with persons even, but with things — all things, both in heaven and in earth. There are no persons in heaven to be brought back by the work of Christ, "for verily He taketh not hold of angels, but of the seed of Abraham He taketh hold" (Heb. 2:16, Gr.). It is not, therefore, of persons that the apostle is speaking here, but of the frame-work of things put out of joint, as it were, through sin, as far as sin has reached, and which the work of Christ was needed to set right.
In this application of reconciliation two things are plain: first, that it is not merely a moral effect on man that is intended by it, (although this moral effect there is, and it is a great truth too;) and secondly, that it was in the nature of God Himself that the deepest need of atonement lay. Going on to Ephesians, we find the apostle speaking of "the redemption of the purchased possession" (Eph. 1:14); and in Hebrews 9:12, saying, "It was necessary, therefore, that the patterns of things in the heavens should be purified with these, but the heavenly, things themselves with better sacrifices than these." Here, the heavenly things, then, are spoken of as purchased, purified, reconciled, redeemed. In whose eyes were they, then, impure? Clearly, in His to whom alone all true sacrifice was ever offered. It was the nature of God which required atonement, His holiness that needed satisfaction in it. In a deeper sense than probably Eliphaz knew could it be said, "The heavens are not clean in His sight" (Job 15:15). The work of Christ enables Him to lay hold upon all that with which sin has been connected, and restore to more than all its pristine beauty and excellency. How unspeakable is the value of that work which not only does this, but actually glorifies Him in filling the heavenly places with those redeemed from the fall, and made the very "righteousness of God in Christ."
As for Christians, they are already reconciled through the work of Christ: "You . . . hath He reconciled." It is done, although not yet are all the fruits reaped of this. Already are we before God in Christ, "accepted in the Beloved," waiting for the adoption, the redemption of the body, to put us in our place every way, in the very image of the heavenly. Reconciliation on our part necessarily includes the change from enmity, the natural state, to love, as here and in Romans both: "When we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son" "You, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your minds by wicked works, yet now hath He reconciled." The moral effect is what is needed as to us. The power of the display. of the love which has so wonderfully met our whole necessity brings our hearts back to God. Love wins love: "we love Him because He first loved us." Hence, for this effect, the freeness and fullness of the gospel are essential. "Tell Me, therefore, which of them will love him most? 'I suppose that he to whom he forgave most.' 'Thou hast rightly judged.'" Question of the love that calls forth my love is fatal to this effect. I must be delivered from the necessity of seeking my own things, in order to live, not unto myself, but unto Him who died for me and rose again. This, the apostle tells us, was the secret of his life, such as we know it was: "The life which I live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me."
Reconciliation was needed thus on our part, and in order that it might be, the death of Christ must meet the demand of divine righteousness; but on this very account it is never said in Scripture, as it is so often in human creeds, that God is reconciled by the work of Christ. He had not changed, but we. God had never enmity to the work of His hands, however fallen away from Him. He had not, then, to be reconciled; and so, even where the reconciliation is of things, not persons, it is still these that are said to be reconciled, as we have seen. As to man, reconciliation is pressed upon him on the ground of Christ's work: "We pray, in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God; for He hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him."
The second part of Colossians gives, as I have said, the effect of the work of Christ for us, bringing in His resurrection and life beyond death as giving us our new place in the efficacy of it with God. We have "dead with Christ," "buried with Christ," almost exactly as in the second part of Romans, our death being called here "the circumcision of Christ," or Christian circumcision. While the "alive in Christ" of Romans is here carried back to its commencement in our being "quickened together with Christ." Our life in Him is thus seen, from its first moment, to be the result of atonement. The blotting out of legal ordinances, which were contrary to us, and the spoiling of principalities and powers, are connected also with His work. Risen with Him, we are in spirit to be outside the scene we are passing through, — to "seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth at the right hand of God."
Ephesians, as is well known, carries us one step beyond this. We are not only risen, but ascended, "made to sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus." Here, "with" can no longer be said, as is evident. We are not actually, but as yet only represented, there: it is "the exceeding greatness of His power to usward who believe, according to the working of His mighty power, which He wrought in Christ when He raised Him from the dead, and set Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places."
This is individual, of course. And though, as in Colossians, "we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace," yet the meeting our responsibility in grace is not the special subject of Ephesians, but the new creation which we are made in Christ, and this in its heavenly character the epistle sets before us. It is not within our scope just now to enter upon this. In connection with it, the effect of the cross is spoken of as breaking down the middle wall of partition between both Jew and Gentile, both man and God. This middle wall of partition is the law, which the apostle calls, therefore, by a strong figure, the "enmity," and its abolition, our peace and reconciliation: "Having abolished in His flesh the enmity, the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in Himself of twain one new man, making peace; and that He might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby." There is nothing here but what is simple enough, and needs no comment. Nor does Ephesians present us with any further development of the doctrine of atonement.
The texts we have had before us naturally connect themselves with one already quoted in connection with them, but to which we must give now more particular attention. It is 2 Corinthians 5:21. The whole passage runs thus: "And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to Himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; to wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech by us, we pray in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God. For He hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him."
Notice, first, there is no statement here of the world having been reconciled. It is of the attitude which God took in Christ come into the world, of which the apostle is speaking. What Christ was doing when here, he says, we are doing as His representatives, "in His stead," now He is no longer here. But that attitude is of beseeching men to be reconciled, — not telling them they are. In this way God was not imputing their trespasses to them, inviting them to draw nigh to Him, not forbidding access.
Now this same liberty of access is proclaimed, but the ground of it is an already accomplished work: "He hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin." The main feature of atonement is here very clearly given; and the force is made plainer by the contrast of words and thought. In the same sense was Christ made sin for us as that in which we are made righteousness; and as the sin was the sin of man, so the righteousness is the righteousness of God. Moreover, as it was not in Himself that He was made sin, for He knew none; so not in ourselves are we made divine righteousness, but in Him. The antithesis in all this no one can doubt to be designed; and it makes evident the meaning of the whole. Christ who knew no sin was identified with it upon the cross; we as the fruit of His work, in our place in Him, are identified with the righteousness of God. In Him dying upon the tree is seen the sin of man; but the righteousness of God is seen, wonderful to say, in sinners being accepted in the Beloved.
But you may say, Is not the righteousness of God seen also in the cross? Surely it is; and so the third of Romans states: "Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood, to declare His righteousness;" but in what respect? "That He might be righteous, justifying" — pronouncing righteous — "him which believeth in Jesus." That we might be in Him, it was necessary that He should be made sin for us; the righteousness of God no less could satisfy. That we are in Him declares therefore the cross God's method of salvation affirms that righteousness, now our shelter and defense, "the righteousness of God over all them that believe." With this, then, we are identified forever: forever we shall display it, as we shall "the exceeding riches of His grace."