The Atonement a Necessity
2 Samuel 14:14
For we must needs die, and are as water spilt on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again; neither does God respect any person…

Now, observe, David did not cease to be a father because he was a king, and he did not cease to be a king because he was a father. Now, contemplate the everlasting God in the relationship in which He stands to His creature man. Observe, first, in a certain limited sense, God is the Father of us all. "We are all His offspring." But remember, this is only in a certain definite sense; that is to say, every one is a child of God, inasmuch as he is the offspring of man, who was created by, and received his life directly from, the Supreme Being, and inasmuch as each of us are called into existence by His sovereign will. Now, you wilt find that those who are indisposed to accept the Atonement will always lay great, stress upon this view of the fatherhood of God. They will say, "Is not God a Father? and if He is our Father, is it not natural for Him to grieve for His children?" To which I reply by pointing to our story. Was not David a father, and had he not a father's heart? Yes. Why did not David forgive Absalom? Because he was more than a father: he was a king. You tell me that God is your Father. Yes, I am ready to admit that in the sense I have defined He is. Let me point out, however, that He is not the Father of us all in the full sense of that word. If you have not received "the Spirit of His Son" — that "spirit of adoption, whereby we cry Abba, Father," you are not occupying the filial relationship towards Him to which you have a right, and hence you are not entitled to draw such inferences as you otherwise might from the analogy of the earthly relationship. Now let us look closely at this picture. I observe, first, that the heart of the old man David is yearning over his son Absalom. Though Absalom is a criminal, the father would fain forgive him; but justice and honour forbade his doing so. How eager was he to do it: but then, you know, he was a king. Another thought rises up against the ardent desire: "I am king, and if I forgive my own son, people will say I am guilty of favouritism." Well, what was to be done? It won't do for the king to become depressed and miserable about the matter. Somehow or another Absalom must be got back. So Joab felt, moved, no doubt, partly by sympathy, and partly by policy, hoping to make the best of his relations both with the present and with the future monarch. So he devises a plan. He gets hold of a wily woman, as crafty as himself, and sets her in the king's way; and as the king passes by, she gains his ear with a dolorous wail of distress — "Help, O king!" One was dead; she could not get him back, and the sacrifice of the life of her only remaining son would not recall him to life. He was dead; and now the representatives of the law were coming to take the last support, the only joy she had left her in the world. The widow gained the day, but what had happened? Mercy had triumphed over judgment. And what is the sequel of this victory of mercy over judgment? By-and-by, the crushing and overwhelming outburst of Divine indignation upon those guilty tribes and their guiltier leader. I see the forest of Mount Ephraim reeking with human gore, and twenty thousand corpses strewn upon the ground, and suspended on yonder oak — a spectacle for all time — I see the traitor-hearted parricide, with the javelins in his heart! That is the sequel. And, as I contemplate the blood-drenched battlefield; as I think of the tears of the widows and the wail of fatherless children; as I think of the misery, the devastation that cursed the land; as I hear the wail of a stricken country ringing up into the ears of God, I discover what mere fancy does, when mercy is allowed to triumph over justice. I point to the vast holocaust, to the ghastly corpses piled one over another, and I ask, "Who slew all these?" The reply is, "Mercy slew them." Not least, I point to yonder fatal oak, where the body of Absalom hangs suspended, with the javelins thrust through his quivering body, and into his very heart, and I ask, "Who slew that miserable wretch?" and the answer is, "Mercy slew him." He never would have been present at that battlefield, or have been in a position to raise that standard of revolt, and so he would never have brought on his own head that terrible retribution, if he had not been the object of that royal mercy to which he had no claim. Mercy was the undoing of him; this is the solemn moral of this tragic tale. With such a lesson as that before our eyes, shall we turn to the Mighty Monarch of the Universe, and venture to say, "O God! why shouldest Thou require an atonement? Why shouldest Thou not forgive us without any atonement at all?" I wonder what sort of a world we should have if God were to act on such principles. I wonder what sort of a universe we should have if God were to act on such principles. God does not. God will not. Now, I proceed to ask, what would have been needed in order that Absalom might have been brought back from his banishment without danger to his king, his country, or himself? Two things, at least, would have been required. First, it would have been necessary that the moral dignity and majesty of law should be vindicated in an exemplary manner. Surely not less than this was demanded by the circumstances of the case. If Absalom is to be recalled to the king's court, it must somehow or other be so arranged as that the law shall not suffer by it — that the criminal shall not be able to point to that. prince, and to say, "Ah! there is a premium upon sin." Second, and not less, it would have been necessary that a radical change should have been effected in Absalom's character, so that a repetition of such offences might have been rendered most improbable, if not impossible. But mere mercy did not, could not, produce this; on the contrary, it might be expected to breed callousness and indifference to the threats of the law, and to dispose the pardoned culprit to think lightly of an offence which could be so readily overlooked. He was the same man morally after receiving the king's pardon as before — as vindictive, ruthless, treacherous, cruel. Hence, his presence at David's court was a necessary danger to society, and the results that followed are not surprising. We conclude, then, that these two things are necessary before the prerogative of mercy can be exercised by a sovereign wisely and well, and without injury to his authority, to the state, or to the individual recipient of it. Keep these in mind, and then you will be better able to understand the necessity of the atonement. First, the vindication of the majesty of the taw; arid, second, the complete transformation of the character of the offender. David could not compass either in this case. No human ingenuity could solve the problem; so in justice and right there could be nothing for it but that Absalom should remain in bonds. Now we have observed that this wise woman of Tekoah, when she argues the matter with David, points to God's dealings with man as her justification of her plea; but it is worthy of notice that she does so in a very cautious and guarded way. The truth is, she knew a deal more theology than many of our modern professors. What does she say? If you examine her argument carefully you will see that, strictly speaking, it does not carry its own conclusion. There is a logical fallacy in it. Put it thus — "You should follow the example of God, David; you can't be wrong in doing what God does. God devises means whereby His 'banished' shall not be expelled from Him — therefore you may recall yours without devising any means at all, but by a mere arbitrary and despotic exercise of the prerogative of mercy. You may not be able to do it as God does it, but, means or no means, get it done." You see the argument does not hold water. It was a sophistry; but it was a sophistry that carried the day, because it was addressed to the heart rather than to the head. Now she teaches us here a great truth. God indeed "devises means whereby His banished shall not be expelled from Him." What are the means? I point unhesitatingly to Calvary's Cross, and I say, "There are the means." You may he sure that if any other means would have answered the great purpose, God would have adopted them. If anything else would have met the requirements of the case, surely, surely, in some other way the mighty problem would have been solved. But there was only one means — I say it reverently — that even the wisdom of God could suggest. "We preach Christ crucified." The Jews called this a stumbling-block. They did not see their need of an atonement; they wanted a king. Do you believe that God can show mercy? I suppose we certainly all agree to that, at least. Those who repudiate the atonement admit that God can show mercy. Next, do you believe that God should show mercy? Surely here also we are all agreed — we are all of us poor, frail, fallible creatures, and under these circumstances it is very necessary that mercy should be extended to us. Very good; we start with two points in common. Is this as far as we can go together? Can we not find another point in common? Will you not agree with me that, in showing mercy, God has a right to condition the exercise of His sovereign prerogative in any way that seems most in accordance with wisdom and goodness? Surely you will not object to that position, will you? If I am giving away favours, free favours, unmerited favours, and I choose to attach any condition to those favours, surely I have a right to do so if I will. Is not that so? Certainly. Does mercy come of right or of grace? Surely you will agree with me that it comes of grace. No sinner has a claim on the Divine mercy. Well, if it comes of grace — that is, if it is a free gift — God has a right to qualify it according to His own mind, whatever that mind may be. "Well," you reply, "but God does not act on any such arbitrary and despotic fashion." Quite true. But what if God chooses to qualify His administration of mercy in such a fashion that mercy, instead of being a premium on crime, shall be a preventive of crime? What about that? Oh, if men who despise the Atonement could only see the wonderful wisdom, the true philosophy, that lurks underneath the Atonement, we should have an end to the supercilious criticism which so often stands between the soul and God. When God elected to extend mercy towards the fallen world, He also made up His mind that that mercy should be a double blessing; and in order that it might be a double blessing He took care that His mercy should not be bestowed promiscuously, so to speak, but that it should be bestowed in such a form that, on the one hand, the majesty of God's law and the eternal and changeless antipathy of God against sin should be clearly manifested to the eyes of all; while, on the other hand, the moral character of the sinner should be so completely changed and revolutionised that instead of mercy being s premium upon guilt, on the contrary, mercy should render sin impotent, and strip the tyrant powers of hell of all their dominion over man. That is the true meaning of atonement. How is it to be done? "God devises means whereby His banished shall not be expelled from him;" and the first means is that He vindicates His law, and makes it honourable. You say it was not lust that He should bear our sins. Stop a moment. It would not have been just if He had been anything less than God. It would not have been just if the everlasting God had laid the burden of one creature's guilt upon the head of another: but do you mean to tell me that God has not a right to do what He likes with Himself? Do you mean that God has not a right to vindicate His own taw? And the second is that not only was the Sufferer Divine, but that He suffered in human form, and as a man, and that as such there was a "joy that was set before Him." What was that joy? The joy of pure benevolence; the joy of being able to rescue the children of earth on their way to perdition; the joy of being able to restore a fallen race, and reconsecrate to His Father a desecrated world; the joy of triumphant love. The crown and the reward of the Man Christ Jesus is to be obtained by Him in His humanity according to the words of the prophet, "When He shall see His seed"; "When He shall see of the travail of His soul, and be satisfied"; when a ransomed Church gathered in His presence, and clustering round His person, shall pour forth through a bright eternity the continuous offering of unwearied, grateful praise to Him who hath loved them and given Himself for them. Well now, there it is; God's wondrous means. Have you anything to say against it? Had not God a right to provide such a means if it seemed good to Him? Now let us consider its effects. First, we have a supreme vindication of God's attitude towards sin. What more is wanted? One thing more, or the Atonement may yet fail of its purpose. One thing more is demanded by the circumstances of the case. What is it? That the acceptance of the benefit shall necessarily involve a radical transformation of the sinner. How is it to be effected? By a man's trying to turn over a new leaf. No; that won't effect it. If I do turn over a new leaf, I am still the same man now as I was yesterday, with the same motives, the same impulses, the same temptations, the same infirmities. Do you mean to say that you can make a new man of yourself by a resolution? How silly of people when they talk in this way. Do they not know something about the force of habit? "If any man be in Christ he is a new creature."When the weary soul makes its way to the Cross of Calvary, what does it see? The first thing it sees is a dying man. You have seen that, all of you. You ask what His life has been. You read the record of it here, and you say, "Why, what evil has He done?" and even while you wait in vain for an answer, you look again, and this time you discover, under the form of a dying man, the august presence of the living God. "God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself." Then, bewildered and amazed, once again you turn your eyes on this strange spectacle. More inquiringly than ever, you fix your gaze upon the overwhelming sight. What does it mean? You have seen the dying man; you have seen the present God; what do you see now? The thing above all others that is opposed to God — sin. "He was made sin for us who knew no sin." But observe — it is sin crucified, not sin triumphant — sin nailed to the tree and executed, not sin doing its own deadly work. Once again you turn your gaze to the cross of Christ. Is there anything more to be seen? You strain your powers of vision to the utmost, with the eager concentrated gaze of faith. What do you see now? You have seen the dying man; you have seen the Son of God; you have seen crucified sin. What do you see there now? I will tell you what I see. I see my guilty self nailed to that cross — myself, the felon, represented in the person of Him, the Holy One, who has voluntarily consented to identify Himself with me; I see my corrupt "old man" obtaining what its sin has deserved. St. Paul saw this as he looked at the cross, and boldly exclaimed, "I am crucified with Christ." What then? If I be crucified with Christ, then, thanks be to God, between me and my old self, upon which the law of God has done its work, there is an actual separation. I have done with that old life of mine. The crucified old nature is left in Jesus' tomb; there the burden of my sins is cast. Henceforth the power of my sins is broken, and I enter into a new life, and rote novel and blessed relationships. "I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me." Do you not see that a man cannot claim the benefit of the Atonement without admitting first the justice of the sentence illustrated by the Atonement; and, in the second place, without seeing himself by faith as cut off by force of that sentence, thus undergone, from all connection with the former life of sin; nor, in the third place, without entering into a new and glorious relationship with the living God. He who is buried and raised again with Christ is already in possession of the power of an endless life, and thus enjoys a new moral force, animated by new motives, and fired with new desires. Thus he goes forth from the cross a "new creature" in Christ Jesus. You cannot afford to dispense with the Atonement. Your heads need it, your hearts need it, your lives need it. Would to God we all understood its mystic power motet Now, our text states that God has devised means whereby His banished should not be expelled from Him. At this moment we are banished, but, thank God, we are not yet expelled. Those of you who are not yet restored to the Divine favour are banished. The joyful light of God's mercy does not rest upon your lives or upon your hearts. You are banished: the terrible sentence of banishment has already been recorded against you. Young men, do you know what it is to be in anything like spiritual communion with God? Is God a reality to you — a present Friend? Does He dwell in your hearts? Nay: for you are banished — already banished — some of you. But remember, though you are banished, the heart of God is yearning over you. The message from the Cross to you — if you will but hear it — surely amounts to this: "Come home, come home, ye banished! Come home, come home, ye wandering souls! ye who have found your way out from the Divine presence, and have lost your way in a desolate world, come home!"

(W. Hay Aitken, M. A.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: For we must needs die, and are as water spilt on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again; neither doth God respect any person: yet doth he devise means, that his banished be not expelled from him.

WEB: For we must die, and are as water split on the ground, which can't be gathered up again; neither does God take away life, but devises means, that he who is banished not be an outcast from him.

Means for Restoring the Banished
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