Vicarious – Substitutionary
Atonement – things made right (“at-one”-ment) between God and man.
We regretfully suspect that the subject of the vicarious atonement is one that is not heard much in the Christian church today. It seems as though this essential doctrine concerning the salvation of sinners has fallen by the way as the church addresses what it sees to be more pressing matters.
Yet what is more pressing and wonderful than the matter of redemption from sin and the salvation of the soul? However important many of the issues that occupy the church’s attention, they are of little consequence in the grand plan of life that ends either in heaven or in hell.
The appreciation of the vicarious atonement necessitates accepting the fact that is difficult for human nature. That fact is that our sins have separated us from God. Our sins have merited the wrath of God. Our sins deserve the severest penalty. The consequence of sin is eternal death.
But the Heavenly Father had mercy. He promised the Savior. He laid our sins on Jesus. He punished Christ in our stead. Jesus who had kept the Law perfectly, nevertheless died in our stead. In other words, Jesus was our substitute. He to our place. The substitutionary death of Jesus on the cross is what the vicarious atonement is about. It is the theme of Isaiah 53.
In the 3rd verse [of Isaiah 53] we read, “He is despised,” for us, that is, in our place; He was “rejected by men,” for us. Verses 4-6 say, “Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Notice the prevailing thought of those verses: “He for us.” “He in our place.” The Apostle Peter in the first epistle, chapter 2, speaks of Jesus “Who himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree.” By Jesus’ suffering and death, and by the shedding of His blood He has covered, atoned for, our sin. For the penitent sinner there is no greater word in Scripture than that which Jesus spe from the cross when he said, “It is finished.” For Jesus’ sake the Father has reconciled us unto Himself.
When we have run our course and draw our last breath we can do so in confidence for the Father accepted the sacrifice made in our place. Therefore:
Dear Christians, one and all rejoice,
With exultation springing,
And, with united heart and voice
And holy rapture singing,
Proclaim the wonders God hath done,
How his right arm the victory won;
Right dearly it hath cost him (TLH 387:1).