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Bible Dictionaries

People's Dictionary of the Bible


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Atonement. (literally, a setting at one.) Satisfaction or reparation made for an injury, by doing or suffering that which will be received in satisfaction for an offence or injury. Specifically, in the Bible: The expiation of sin made by the obedience, personal sufferings, and death of Christ. Human language is imperfect, and human conceptions are often defective, when applied to the Most High. He is not touched with anger, resentment, etc., in the gross sense in which we commonly use the terms. We have, therefore, to take care that we do not represent him as hard to be mollified, with a thirst of vengeance to be slaked by the suffering of a victim. Nowhere does Scripture assert that the Father had a purpose of burning wrath against the world, which was changed by the interposition of the Son, on whom it lighted, so that, satiated by his punishment, he spared mankind. The Scripture rather teaches that "God so loved the world, that he gave Ms only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life." John 3:16. "God is love." 1 John 4:16. But God cannot "behold evil" with complacency. Habakkuk 1:13. It is consequently Impossible that he can pass over it. Hence he threatens to visit it with a penalty: "the soul that sinneth it shall die." Ezekiel 18:4.

His infinite holiness and justice, and the intrinsic demerit of sin, require this. The proper idea of an atonement is that which brings the forgiveness of transgressors into harmony with all the perfections of the Godhead. One of these perfections must not be exalted to the depression of another: all must be equally and fully honored. Redemption, devised in the counsels of the eternal Three, was carried forward by the Son of God, who became man, that in the nature that had sinned he might make satisfaction for sin. He made this satisfaction by his obedience unto death, perfectly fulfilling the divine law, for he "did no sin;" and enduring the penalty of it, for "his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree." 1 Peter 2:22; 1 Peter 2:24. In such a sacrifice, God's judgment against the evil and desert of sin was most illustriously displayed. As no other sacrifice of like value could be found, proof was given to the universe that sin was the most disastrous evil, and that its "punishment was not the arbitrary act of an inexorable judge, but the unavoidable result of perfect holiness and justice, even in a Being of infinite mercy." The objections urged against the doctrine of the atonement, as if a vicarious sacrifice for sin were irrational, or placed the character of the Deity in an unamiable light, are not, when sifted, found to be very cogent It must always be remembered that Christ's atonement was not to induce God to show mercy, but to make the exercise of his love to sinners consistent with the honor of his law and the pure glory of his name. Sin is therein especially branded; and God's wisdom, righteousness, holiness, faithfulness, and mercy, are most eminently displayed. And, whereas it is said that he must forgive freely without requiring satisfaction, because he commands his creatures freely to forgive, it is forgotten that the cases are not parallel. Private offences are to be forgiven freely. But a ruler must execute his just laws. And so God is a great King, and as a king he administers public justice and will not arbitrarily clear the guilty. Doubtless there is much in his purposes and plans which we are incapable of rightly estimating. Enough is revealed to show us that "God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them." 2 Corinthians 5:19. But we should recollect that. "as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are" his "ways higher than" our "ways and" his "thoughts than" our "thoughts." Isaiah 55:9.

The day of expiation, or atonement, was a yearly solemnity, observed with rest and fasting on the tenth day of Tishri, five days before the Feast of Tabernacles. Leviticus 23:27; Leviticus 25:9; Numbers 29:7. This would now be in the early part of October. The ceremonies of this day are described in Leviticus 16:1-34. On this day alone the high priest entered the Most Holy Place. Hebrews 9:7. The various rites required him to enter several times on this day robed in white: first with a golden censer and a vessel filled with incense; then with the blood of the bullock, which he had offered for his own sins and those of all the priests. The third time he entered with the blood of the ram which he had offered for the sins of the nation. The fourth time he entered to bring out the censer and vessel of Incense; and having returned, he washed his hands and performed the other services of the day. The ceremony of the scapegoat also took place on this day. Two goats were set apart, one of which was sacrificed to the Lord, while the other, the goat for complete separation, was chosen by lot to be set at liberty. Leviticus 16:20-22. These solemn rites pointed to Christ. Hebrews 9:11-15. As this day of expiation was the great fast-day of the Jewish church, so godly Borrow for sin characterizes the Christian's looking unto the Lamb of God, and "the rapture of pardon" is mingled with "penitent tears."

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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Rice, Edwin Wilbur, DD. Entry for 'Atonement'. People's Dictionary of the Bible. 1893.

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