Behold Your God
Fred T. Wright
The particular problem before us concerns the way in which God deals with the unrepentant sinner. The emergence of sin imposed upon God the greatest test of character ever. Because it is the truth that the greater the test the greater the manifestation of the character present, the contemplation of the way in which God deals with the sinner reveals more of the wonder of God’s character than any other study could.
Previously in these pages, evidence and argument have been assembled to draw the contrast between the way in which God deals with the sinner and the way man does it. It has been shown that the Lord does not bless for a time and then turn with cursings and destructions upon the unrepentant, even though it is widely supposed that He does. The evidences so far considered are overwhelmingly convincing. Let these be studied now in the light of the cross. They will either be confirmed or denied by that utterly reliable witness of God’s character.
The cross is God’s personal demonstration of the way in which He will deal with the finally impenitent. Christ took the sinner’s place and God dealt with Him thee exactly as He will deal with every sinner throughout the annals of time. This is the point which must be clearly seen and accepted. God did not relate Himself to Christ any differently from what He does to the sinner. It is exactly the same. It must be, for if God should do otherwise, then Satan would be very quick to justly charge God with partiality.
Christ wholly took the sinner’s place. This was so real, so complete,
that it was as if He were the sinner. It was thus that God saw Him in Gethsemane, and on the cross, and it was as a lost and condemned sinner that God treated Him. It was no make-believe substitution. Had it not been absolutely real, all would have been lost, for, if Christ’s standing in the place of sinners came short in the least degree, then, to that degree the ransom was not fully paid.
This vital truth is spelled out with great clarity in these statements. Every encouragement is given to the student to concentrate his attention on the wording of these paragraphs so that the message may not be missed. Become immovably confirmed in the truth that Christ in no way received any “preferred son” treatment from His Father resulting in His being punished in a different way from that of the lost and unrepentant sinner. Look to the cross of Calvary for a clear view of the way God acted there, and then know exactly how God acts when a sinner has eternally refused the offer of repentance.
Back in the Garden of Eden, despite the warnings given them from God, Adam and Eve chose to go the way of transgression. That way incurs a punishment, the nature of which has already been discussed in chapter eight. Therein it was learned that God has given man life, a home, and mighty powers to enable him to live to full happiness and achievement in that home. But power with its capacity to maintain life on the best of levels also has the potentiality for doing away with it altogether.
To protect man from the latter eventuality, God gave him the law as a love gift from heaven. Obedience to it would perpetuate his eternal and perfect happiness, but disobedience would unleash all those powers in a destructive role. That destruction would in no way be the working of God’s personal retaliation against the sinner. It would be the inevitable outworking of his own course of action.
When the first pair sinned, they took another god in place of the real God, making it impossible for Him to continue as the Sustainer of all the powers of nature without His forcing His presence where it was not desired. Therefore, at the very moment in which they turned out of the pathway of righteousness, there were poised and ready to strike, mighty powers, which, though provided for their blessing, had been perverted to destroy. They would have died that very day as God had said, but for one contingency.
“The instant man accepted the temptations of Satan, and did the very thing God has said he should not do, Christ, the Son of God, stood between the living and the dead, saying, ‘Let the punishment fall on Me. I will stand in man’s place. He shall have another chance.’” E.G. White, SDA Bible Commentary, 1:1085.
The substitution of Christ in man’s place was complete. Christ bears the same punishment and stands in the same place to receive it. To determine the nature of the sentence to fall upon man, study need only be given to the way Christ died. There are two ways in which it could have happened.
One is under the power of an offended God rising to vindicate His authority. The death would then be the result of God’s direct act. If this is the way the sinner was to die then Christ must die in an identical fashion. God cannot administer one sentence on the sinner and a different one on Christ, for, if He did, He would deny the truth that Christ took man’s punishment and stood in man’s place.
The other possibility is for God to leave the sinner to the fate which he has chosen, once he has rejected every possible effort on God’s part to save him. His death would then be the outworking of the broken law. If this is the way man is to die, then that is the way Christ died.
In short, the question is, does God kill the sinner or is it sin which will destroy him? Whichever it is, that is what destroyed Christ when the punishment fell upon Him.
The reading of individual statements would certainly give the impression that it was God who personally administered the punishment on the sinner according to His judgment of what it should be. Here is a sample of such a statement.
“There are limits even to the forbearance of God. The boundary of His long-suffering may be reached, and then He will surely punish. And when He does take up the case of the presumptuous sinner, He will not cease till He has made a full end.
“Very few realize the sinfulness of sin; they flatter themselves that God is too good to punish the offender. But the cases of Miriam, Aaron, David, and many others show that it is not a safe thing to sin against God and in deed in word, or even in thought. God is a being of infinite love and compassion, but He also declares Himself to be ‘a consuming fire, even a jealous God.’” E.G. White, Review and Herald, August 14, 1900.
Because we have been so long accustomed to interpret words such as these in the same way as we would if they were describing human behavior, we see in them the description of God as the One Who, with patience exhausted, arises to personally punish those who have offended Him. But the witness of the cross does not support this interpretation.
“The death of Christ was to be the convincing, everlasting argument that the law of God is as unchangeable as His throne. The agonies of the Garden of Gethsemane, the insult, the mockery, and abuse heaped upon God’s dear Son, the horrors and ignominy of the crucifixion, furnish sufficient and thrilling demonstration that God’s justice, when it punishes, does work thoroughly. The fact that His own Son, the Surety for man, was not spared is an argument that will stand to all eternity before saint and sinner, before the universe of God, to testify that He will not excuse the transgressor of His law. Every offense against God’s law, however minute, is set down in the reckoning, and when the sword of justice is taken in hand, it will do the work for impenitent transgressors that was done to the divine Sufferer. Justice will strike; for God’s hatred of sin is intense and overwhelming.” E.G. White, SDA Bible Commentary, 3:1166.
Reference is made in this quotation to the working of God’s justice. A caution again needs to be sounded that God’s ways are not our ways and therefore God’s justice and man’s justice are not the same. More will be studied on this later.
This statement recognizes that there is a terrible punishment to fall upon those who have rejected the protection of righteous law. It also states that the same work to be done in destroying the impenitent, was don on Christ when He died. Therefore, His death is a revelation of the work of God in the death of the wicked. By this means we can understand the Bible meaning of how God punishes the sinner.
Before we do look at the cross to see just what the Father did there, let a further statement be studied to strengthen the point made in the one just quoted, namely that the death of Christ was exactly as the death of the sinner will be.
“It is a fearful thing for the unrepentant sinner to fall into the hands of the living God. This is proved by the history of the destruction of the old world by a flood, by the record of the fire which fell from heaven and destroyed the inhabitants of Sodom.” E.G. White, SDA Bible Commentary, 5:1103.
This is the first part of what is to be quoted here from this statement. From what has been read thus far, the impression will be formed that God is the destroyer. When we hear a human-being speak of his enemy in these words, “If that man should ever all into my hands . . . “we know that he purposes to use all his powers to personally crush and destroy that man. So we are apt to think of God in the same terms because of our familiarity with the earthly meaning of such an expression. But as the statement continues, it gives us again the guideline of the experience of God and Christ at cross to enable us to understand the real meaning of those words.
“But never was this [the fearful thing of falling into the hands of the living God] proved to so great an extent as in the agony of Christ, the Son of the infinite God, when He bore the wrath of God for a sinful world.” ibid.
He, then, who looks firstly and only at what he thinks he sees taking place at the flood and at Sodom and Gomorrah, will arrive at an incorrect view of what it does mean to fall into the hands of the living God. But, if he looks firstly at the death of Christ and understands from the revelation there, what it means to fall into the hands of the living God, then he will have the right view of the character and justice of God.
The revelation of this truth is strengthened as we read further in the paragraph. “It was in consequence of sin, the transgression of God’s law, that the Garden of Gethsemane has become pre-eminently the place of suffering to a sinful world. No sorrow, no agony, can measure with that which was endured by the Son of God.
“Man has not been made a sin-bearer, and he will never know the horror of the curse of sin which the Saviour bore. No sorrow can bear any comparison with the sorrow of Him upon whom the wrath of God fell with
overwhelming force. Human nature can endure but a limited amount of test and trial. The finite can only endure the finite measure, and human nature succumbs; but the nature of Christ had a greater capacity for suffering; for the human existed in the divine nature, and created a capacity for suffering to endure that which resulted from the sins of a lost world. The agony which Christ endured, broadens, deepens, and gives a more extended conception of the character of sin, and the character of the retribution which God will bring upon those who continue in sin. The wages of sin id death, but the fight of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ to the repenting, believing sinner.” ibid.
So Christ said, “Let the punishment fall on Me. I will stand in man’s place.”
This is what He did. God took Him completely at His word so that:
The sword of justice did to Christ exactly what it would have done to sinful man and will do when the finally impenitent suffer their ultimate destruction;
He received the full outpouring of the wrath of God;
He fell into the hands of the living God.
And thus died as a man will die if he remains in sin.
This being so, there remains only the need to study how Jesus died on the cross to understand how God will relate Himself to the sinner; to understand what the wrath of God is; and of what the punishment of sin consists.
On the cross of Calvary, Christ died the death of the sinner. It was a death which met the full demands of God’s law. It was God’s punishment on sinners, but it was not at the hand of God that Christ died. The Father did not slay His Son.
It was sin which slew the Son of God. The Father simply withdrew from the Son and left Him to perish, because there was nothing else He could do. Christ stood in the very position of the sinner who wants nothing of God and demands His withdrawal. With the withdrawal of the sustaining, life-protecting, life-giving power of God, there was nothing to save Christ from the awful, destructive power of sin. Its fearful weight crushed the life forces into extinction.
“But it was not the spear thrust, it was not the pain of the cross, that caused the death of Jesus. That cry, uttered ‘with a loud voice’ (Matthew 27:50; Luke 23:46), at the moment of death, the stream of blood and water that flowed from His side, declared that He died of a broken heart. His heart was broken by mental anguish. He was slain by the sin of the world.” The Desire of Ages, 772.
There can be no mistaking the way in which Christ died. Accordingly, there is no difficulty in knowing how man will die at the destructive hands of sin. At the cross, when the full penalty which Christ undertook to bear in man’s place, was exacted, Christ did not find the Father waiting for Him
there as an executioner to extinguish every ray of hope and element of life. It was sin which, in that role, awaited Him.
So men will never find God waiting as their executioner. Satan makes it appear that He does, but it is not so. The cross of Calvary proves that. Sin is the destroyer which awaits the condemned sinner. Man places himself under its obliterating power by his total rejection of God, whom he replaces with another god who has no power to sustain and protect him.
With Christ, God’s withdrawal from Him was in fulfillment of the covenant made between the Father and the Son that the Saviour would stand in man’s place to receive the punishment man had incurred. This was a voluntary sacrifice made by both the Father and the Son. For God to accept that Christ stood in man’s place, He must separate Himself from Christ as He would from the guilty sinner, thus leaving Him fully exposed to the destructive power of sin.
This is that to which man is left. This is how he perishes. The particular form in which the executioner awaits him varies according to place and circumstances. Thus some meet the grim reaper in the person of enraged enemies; others perish by the inroads of fearful diseases; some are cut down by nature out of control; while others perish in accidents and calamities. All these forces only await the opportunity to wreak havoc and death among the human family. They can only accomplish their missions of destruction when God is forced to withdraw and leave humans to the fate they have chosen.
Nothing can deny the truths presented by Christ on the cross. He took the punishment due to fall on man in the way in which it will eventually fall on him at the final reckoning. In this is given to us the most accurate picture of the nature of God’s wrath and the punishment of man which could ever be given.
It may be argued that in the end it will be an all-engulfing fire which will obliterate mankind and that this punishment did not fall on Christ. It is true that no literal fire consumed Christ upon the cross, but this creates no problem. The particular weapon used by sin to punish the sinner will vary according to the circumstances. Sometimes it is fire, as at Sodom and Gomorrah and at the end, or it is an earthquake, a tidal wave, a volcanic eruption, the fearful ravages of a disease, or the onslaught of other men. The particular means by which the punishment of sin is administered is not important. The important thing is that it comes by the sinner’s casting off the protecting and sustaining hand of God to release the pent up forces of destruction upon him.
This is how it was with Christ upon the cross and how it will be with every sinner who perishes, either in this first life or in the resurrection of the unjust. The protecting presence of God is withdrawn leaving the sinner exposed to all the destructive power of an evil conscience within and the unleashed forces of nature without.
Those then, who would truly understand the way in which the punishment of sin will fall, how the justice of God will strike, and how the wrath of God descends upon the shelterless head of the guilty, must go to the wondrous sacrifice made upon the hill outside Jerusalem. This is the place to begin. Thereafter let every truth in the Bible from Genesis to Revelation be studied in the light which streams from that cross. Only then will the truth be comprehended.
God does not come to the sinner equipped with the weapons of destruction to execute His own decrees against the impenitent. This is not His way. That is the way of Satan and his followers.
God’s way was to give man the law in the first instance as a protection and a saviour from death. Then, when men cast away that saviour, He gave Himself to save them. When, in turn, they reject this means of salvation, then there is nothing further the Lord can do. He has no option but to leave them to perish.