Louis Berkhof – The Cause and Necessity of the Atonement

The great and central part of the priestly work of Christ lies in the atonement, but this, of course, is not complete without the intercession. His sacrificial work on earth calls for His service in the heavenly sanctuary. The two are complementary parts of the priestly task of the Saviour. This and the following three chapters will be devoted to a discussion of the doctrine of the atonement, which is often called “the heart of the gospel.”


This lies:

1. IN THE GOOD PLEASURE OF GOD. It is sometimes represented as if the moving cause of the atonement lay in the sympathetic love of Christ for sinners. He was so good and loving that the very idea that sinners would be hopelessly lost, was abhorrent to Him. Therefore He offered Himself as a victim in their stead, paid the penalty by laying down His life for transgressors, and thus pacified an angry God. In some cases this view prompts men to laud Christ for His supreme self-sacrifice, but at the same time, to blame God for demanding and accepting such a price. In others it simply causes men to overlook God, and to sing the praises of Christ in unqualified terms. Such a representation is certainly all wrong, and often gives the opponents of the penal substitutionary doctrine of the atonement occasion to say that this doctrine presupposes a schism in the trinitarian life of God. On this view Christ apparently receives His due, but God is robbed of His honour. According to Scripture the moving cause of the atonement is found in the good pleasure of God to save sinners by a substitutionary atonement. Christ Himself is the fruit of this good pleasure of God. It was predicted that He would come into the world to carry out the good pleasure of God, . . . “and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand”, Isa. 53:10. At His birth the angels sang, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men in whom He is well pleased”, Luke 2:14. The glorious message of John 3:16 is that “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” Paul says that Christ “gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us out of this present evil world, according to the will of our God and Father”, Gal. 1:4. And again, “For it was the good pleasure of the Father that in Him should all the fulness dwell; and through Him to reconcile all things unto Himself”, Col. 1:19, 20. It would not be difficult to add other similar passages.

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