Reconciliation, then, has no meaning apart from a sense of guilt, that guilt which is involved in our justification....I want to note here that it means not so much that God is reconciled, but that God is the reconciler. It is the neglect of that truth which has produced so much scepticism in the matter of the atonement. So much of our orthodox religion has come to talk as though God were reconciled by a third part. We lose sight of this great central verse, ‘God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself.’ As we are both living persons, that means that there was reconciliation on God’s side as well as ours; but wherever it was, it was effected by God himself in himself.
In what sense was God reconciled within himself? We come to that surely as we see that the first charge upon reconciling grace is to put away guilt, reconciling by not imputing trespasses. Return to our cardinal verse, II Corinthians 5 v 19, [God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them]. In reconciliation the ground for God’s wrath or God’s judgement was put away. Guilt rest on God’s charging up sin; reconciliation rests upon God’s non-imputation of sin; God’s non-imputation of sin rests upon Christ being made sin for us.
You have thus three stages in this magnificent verse. God’s reconciliation rests upon this, that on his eternal son, who knew no sin in his ex Christ was made sin for us, as he could never have been if he had been made a sinner. It was sin that had to be judged, more even than the sinner, in a world-salvation; and God made Christ sin in this sense, that God as it were took him in the place of sin, rather than of the sinner, and judged the sin upon him; and in putting him there he really put himself there in our place (Christ being what he was); so that the divine judgement of sin was real and effectual. That is, it fell where it was perfectly understood, owned, and praised , and had the sanctifying effect of judgement, the effect of giving holiness at last its own.perience (although he knew more about sin that any man who has ever lived), sin’s judgement fell. Him who knew no sin by experience, God made sin. That is to say, God by Christ’s own consent identified him with sin in treatment though not in feeling. God did not judge him, but judged sin upon his head. He never once counted him sinful; he was always well please with him; it was part, indeed, of his own holy self-complacency.
God made him to be sin in treatment though not in feeling, so that holiness might be perfected in judgement, and we might become the righteousness of God in him; so that we might have in God’s sight righteousness by our living union with Christ, righteousness which did not belong to us actually, naturally, and finally. Our righteousness is as little ours individually as the sin of Christ was his. The thief on the cross, for instance – I do not suppose he would have turned what we call a saint if he had survived; though saved, he would not have become sinless all at once. And the great saint, Paul, had sin working in him long after his conversion. Yet by union with Christ they were made God’s righteousness, they were integrated into the new goodness; God made them partakers of his eternal love to the ever-holy Christ. That is a most wonderful thing. Men like Paul, and far worse men than Paul, by the grace of God, and by a living faith, became partakers of that same eternal love which God from everlasting and to everlasting bestowed upon his only-begotten Son. It is beyond words.
It was not a case of wiping a slate. Sin is graven in. You cannot wipe off sin. It goes into the tissue of the spiritual being. And it alters things for both parties. Guilt affected both God and man. It was not a case of destroying an unfortunate prejudice we had against God. it was not a case of putting right a misunderstanding we had of God. ‘You are afraid of God,’ you hear easy people say; ‘it is a great mistake to be afraid of God. there is nothing to be afraid of. God is love.’ But there is everything in the love of God to be afraid of. Love is not holy without judgement. It is the love of holy God that is consuming fire. It was not simply a case of changing our method, or thought, our prejudices, or moral direction of our soul. It was not a case of giving us courage when we were cast down, showing us how groundless our depression was. It was not that. If that were all it would be a comparatively light matter.
If that were all, Paul could only have spoke about the reconciliation of single souls, not about reconciliation of the whole world as a unity. He could not have spoken about a finished reconciliation to which every age of the future was to look back as its glorious and fontal [pertaining to the source] past. In the words of that verse which I am constantly pressing, ‘God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself.’
Observe first, ‘the world’ is the unity which corresponds to the reconciled unity of ‘himself’; and second, that he was not trying, not taking steps to provide means of reconciliation, not opening doors of reconciliation if we would only walk in at them, not labouring toward reconciliation, not (according to the unhappy phrase) waiting to be gracious, but ‘God was in Christ reconciling’ actually reconciling, finishing the work. It was not a tentative, preliminary affair (Romans xi 15 [for if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead?]). Reconciliation was finished in Christ’s death. Paul did not preach a gradual reconciliation. He preached what the old divines used to call the finished work. He did not preach a gradual reconciliation which was to become the reconciliation of the world only piecemeal, as men were induced to accept it, or were affected by the gospel. He preached something done once for all – a reconciliation which is the base of every soul’s reconciliation, not an invitation only. What the church has to do is to appropriate the thing that has been finally and universally done.
We have to enter upon the reconciled position, on the new creation. Individual men have to enter upon that reconciled position, that new covenant, that new relation, which already, in virtue of Christ’s Cross, belonged to the race as a whole. I will even use for convenience’ sake the word totality. (People turn up their noses at a word like that, and they say it smells of philosophy. Well, philosophy has not a bad smell! You cannot have a proper theology unless you have a philosophy. You cannot accurately express the things that theology handles most deeply. The misfortune of our ministry is that it comes to theology without the proper preliminary culture – with a pious or literary culture only. ) I am going to use this word totality, and say that the first bearing of Christ’s work was upon the race as a totality. The first thing reconciliation does is to change man’s corporate relation to God. Then when it is taken home individually it changes our present attitude. Christ, as it were, put us into the eternal Church; the Holy Spirit teaches us how to behave properly in the Church.