J. N. Darby.
(Notes and Comments Vol. 2.)
The atonement is laid as the great central ground of all God's ways in righteousness. God is perfect love to us there - He is Love; but then, where no hiding, excusing or patience with sin because of weakness was in question, where One who could bear it was, was made sin, all God was, in His necessary antagonism, horror of, judgment against sin, went out against sin, as such, in Him who was able to bear it. God being glorified, purpose, government, as death or chastening His children, can all come out and have their place.
The worth of that, according to which righteousness is obtained, is such that the purpose of God righteously unites us to Christ, and gives a place where He is in glory like and with Him - we are children, holy and without blame before Him in love. He gives to the Jews a place on earth, and deals with them for the display of His government down here; so with us as His children - God deals with us in chastisement and discipline, but all this supposes righteousness and non-imputation. There could be no government without this - God's forbearance before the Cross was justified by this.
It is evident there are two kinds of righteousness - justice as against evil, and adequate appreciation and even recompense of good. "Vengeance is mine, I will recompense saith the Lord" is a different thing from "The righteous Lord loveth righteousness, his countenance beholds the upright"; though both are abstractedly the just estimate of good and evil.
As regards the former, and the controversy we have had, when God has the character of a Judge, my adversaries are all wrong, because God's righteousness as Judge is in Scripture connected with blood, as in Romans 3; so in the Passover. But as to the principle, no man could ever plead a part in the second dealing of righteousness save Christ Himself, for "all are sinners"; Christ, even as a Man down here, could be accepted as perfectly agreeable to God. But then Christianity, and even Judaism in its figures, goes a great deal further - for grace reigns through righteousness, and sinners were to be justified or accounted righteous.
To be justice, in the common sense of the word, it must be the just estimate of conduct itself, or adequate satisfaction for the fault - thus, a man serves me in a thing, renders due service, I am just in recognising this, I own him in the place wherein he stands; if he owes me money and another pays it, or has done a wrong and another repairs it, he is also clear. In the case of material service, another's doing a man's duty may suffice, though, if the service be owed by the man, I am not bound to accept it; still, in material service, if the service only be due, and the man not in responsible relationship to me, I may be justly satisfied. But in relationships and moral right and wrong, this is not so, I cannot accept another's doing what my son owes me and be satisfied with my son; righteousness here requires the duty to be fulfilled, or is not satisfied. To be atoned for and put away as guilt can be rightly, because the guilt is owned, but not a doing the work or duty so that there should be no guilt. The latter weakens the personal obligation, sets it aside, the former owns and atones for it.
69 But in Christianity there is more, for God is to be displayed, grace reign, and man to be brought to God Himself. Hence the measure is God's glory and in itself unveiled, not man's duty - of this anon. But any attempt to meet responsibility in relationship by another's fulfilling the claims, tends to destroy the sense of guilt in it, and is morally heinous - if another has done my duty, and it is as if I have done it, or better, the claim satisfied, then I have done it as to justice and I am not guilty.
If it does not meet the case thus, the idea turns what is due into a material debt and destroys the moral nature of failure - becomes doing, not conduct. I ask if another's doing my child's duty would in any way affect the relationship of my child to me?
This I see in the figures - reconciliation must have an altar and blood-shedding; wrongs may be repaired toward man or toward God, and so it was ordained under the law, but in questions of obedience and relationship not so. There is guilt, and atonement must come in; omission or commission is all one here. Do I fail in worship to God - can another worship for me? Now all our questions with God are questions of obedience and relationship. But then according to principles I have noticed before, though all be done according to the glory of God, for indeed it is one act - the death of Christ - yet the application of the work to man is different; the brazen altar met man's sin coming as such - the mercy-seat was introduction into the presence of God. It was a golden throne; it was judgment against sin, and righteousness to enter into His presence. So Christ - He was both - He made propitiation for our sins, He is our righteousness in the presence of God in virtue of His sacrifice in which God was perfectly glorified. There is the firmness of God's judgment against sin, and perfect access to Him in light and glory. But then note, it is in either case grace - God acting sovereignly for Himself, and hence all must have the value of that. Our very forgiveness is God's righteousness, "we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins." Hence God shews His righteousness in forgiving - is righteous and justifies, according to this, the believer. God's righteousness is upon all that believe. But we do not think of repaying God now - nor may we now - "if thou hast sinned what doest thou unto him?"
70 The blood of Christ, i.e., the moral power and meaning of His blood-shedding, is the absolute perfection of the divine nature in connection with sin, as putting it away - it leaves no blot, no stain, nothing contrary to its Holiness. It maintains, speaks of, tells out that Holiness, and yet not alone simply, but perfect love in it. It is the acting of God in the perfection of His own nature that is Love; for the spring of God's activity is love because it is His nature - what He is in purpose, will, what shows His nature - but it maintains what is necessary to it, i.e., Holiness, and this at the cost of the perfect devotedness of Christ to it, to both, i.e., to God, and that was perfection in its place too. But Godhead is perfectly, fully revealed, and indeed in nothing else; it is known, Christ knew it, others in some measure, but here it is all displayed, not in what God does in power, i.e., what He produces, but what He is and does in His own nature in the display of Himself. It is an exhaustless theme, as such a display of God, as such alone could be, must be. The Cross of Christ is the centre, as to what is displayed, of all glory - the Son of Man is glorified, and God is glorified in Him; all the details only bring it out, but into these I do not enter - it is the great thought I desire to dwell in, I should not say "on," though that in mercy and grace and privilege too.