Atonement

This word does not occur in the Authorized Version of the New
Testament except in Rom. 5:11, where in the Revised Version the
word "reconciliation" is used. In the Old Testament it is of
frequent occurrence.

The meaning of the word is simply at-one-ment, i.e., the state
of being at one or being reconciled, so that atonement is
reconciliation. Thus it is used to denote the effect which flows
from the death of Christ.

But the word is also used to denote that by which this
reconciliation is brought about, viz., the death of Christ
itself; and when so used it means satisfaction, and in this
sense to make an atonement for one is to make satisfaction for
his offences (Ex. 32:30; Lev. 4:26; 5:16; Num. 6:11), and, as
regards the person, to reconcile, to propitiate God in his
behalf.

By the atonement of Christ we generally mean his work by which
he expiated our sins. But in Scripture usage the word denotes
the reconciliation itself, and not the means by which it is
effected. When speaking of Christ's saving work, the word
"satisfaction," the word used by the theologians of the
Reformation, is to be preferred to the word "atonement."
Christ's satisfaction is all he did in the room and in behalf of
sinners to satisfy the demands of the law and justice of God.
Christ's work consisted of suffering and obedience, and these
were vicarious, i.e., were not merely for our benefit, but were
in our stead, as the suffering and obedience of our vicar, or
substitute. Our guilt is expiated by the punishment which our
vicar bore, and thus God is rendered propitious, i.e., it is now
consistent with his justice to manifest his love to
transgressors. Expiation has been made for sin, i.e., it is
covered. The means by which it is covered is vicarious
satisfaction, and the result of its being covered is atonement
or reconciliation. To make atonement is to do that by virtue of
which alienation ceases and reconciliation is brought about.
Christ's mediatorial work and sufferings are the ground or
efficient cause of reconciliation with God. They rectify the
disturbed relations between God and man, taking away the
obstacles interposed by sin to their fellowship and concord. The
reconciliation is mutual, i.e., it is not only that of sinners
toward God, but also and pre-eminently that of God toward
sinners, effected by the sin-offering he himself provided, so
that consistently with the other attributes of his character his
love might flow forth in all its fulness of blessing to men. The
primary idea presented to us in different forms throughout the
Scripture is that the death of Christ is a satisfaction of
infinite worth rendered to the law and justice of God (q.v.),
and accepted by him in room of the very penalty man had
incurred. It must also be constantly kept in mind that the
atonement is not the cause but the consequence of God's love to
guilty men (John 3:16; Rom. 3:24, 25; Eph. 1:7; 1 John 1:9;
4:9). The atonement may also be regarded as necessary, not in an
absolute but in a relative sense, i.e., if man is to be saved,
there is no other way than this which God has devised and
carried out (Ex. 34:7; Josh. 24:19; Ps. 5:4; 7:11; Nahum 1:2, 6;
Rom. 3:5). This is God's plan, clearly revealed; and that is
enough for us to know.