May we at the outset state most earnestly and explicitly that Seventh-day
Adventists do not believe that Christ made but a partial or incomplete
sacrificial atonement on the cross. The word "atonement," in the
Scripture, has a wide connotation. While it involves basically the atoning
sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ on the cross, it also embraces other
important aspects of the work of saving grace.
The word "atonement" itself is like some other words used in the
Bible, such as "salvation" and "redemption." Salvation
involves something that is past, so that one can say, "I have been
saved." It also refers to an experience in progress, so that he can say,
being saved" (see Acts 2:47, R.S.V). It also refers to the future; for
there is a sense in which he can also say, "I shall be saved."
Much the same is true concerning the word "redemption." While the
purchase price—the ransom—was paid at Calvary, and because of this we can
say, "I have been redeemed," yet there are also certain aspects of
redemption that are yet future. In Scripture we read of "the redemption of
our body" (Rom. 8:23), and our Saviour, referring to His second advent,
bade His followers "look up . . . for your redemption draweth nigh"
The same principle obtains with reference to the word "atonement."
Most decidedly the all-sufficient atoning sacrifice of Jesus our Lord was
offered and completed on the cross of Calvary. This was done for all mankind,
for "he is the propitiation . . . for the sins of the whole world" (1
But this sacrificial work will actually benefit human hearts only as we
surrender our lives to God and experience the miracle of the new birth. In this
experience Jesus, our High Priest, applies to us the benefits of His atoning
sacrifice. Our sins are forgiven, we become the children of God by faith in
Christ Jesus, and the peace of God dwells in our hearts.
In the tabernacle days of old, when the mysteries of redemption were
foreshadowed by many typical sacrifices and ordinances, the priest, after the
death of the sacrificial victim, would place the blood on the horns of the
altar. And the record states that in this act "the priest shall make an
atonement for him [the sinner] as concerning his sin, and it shall be forgiven
(Lev. 4:26). Here the atoning sacrifice provided is followed by the benefits of
the same atoning sacrifice applied. In Old Testament days both were recognized
as aspects of the one great over-all work of atonement. The one aspect provided
the atoning sacrifice; the other, the application of its benefits.
Hence, the divine plan of redemption involves more than the vicarious atoning
death of Christ though this is its very core; it also includes the ministry of
our Lord as our heavenly High Priest. Having completed His sacrifice, He rose
from the dead "for our justification" (Rom. 4:25) and then entered
into the sanctuary above, there to perform His priestly service for needy man.
"Having obtained eternal redemption for us" (Heb. 9:12) on the cross,
He now ministers the benefits of that atonement for those who accept of His
mighty provision of grace. Thus the atoning sacrifice, having been completed on
Calvary, must now be applied and appropriated to those who are heirs of
salvation. Our Lord's ministry is thus involved in the great work of atonement.
So as we think of the mighty sweep of the atonement, in its provisions and its
efficacy, it is seen to be vastly more comprehensive than many have thought.
We should remember that men are not automatically, involuntarily, impersonally,
or universally saved en masse. They must individually accept of grace, and it
is our understanding that while Christ died provisionally and potentially for
all men, and nothing more can be added, yet His death is actually and
ultimately efficacious for those only who individually accept and avail
themselves of its benefits
In order to be saved, there must be individual repentance and turning to God.
The sinner must lay hold of the provisions of the fully completed atoning sacrifice
made by Christ on Calvary. And application of the atoning provision
of the cross, to repentant sinners and supplicating saints, becomes effective
only through Christ's priestly ministry—and this whether a man fully
understands it theologically or not.
It is this latter provision of priestly ministry that accomplishes the actual,
experiential, and continuous heart cleansing in the individual, not only from
the guilt but also from the pollution and power of sin. It is this that makes
it efficacious to men. Christ's heavenly ministry in our behalf brings about
the realization of peace and the joy of redemption through the gift of the Holy
Spirit, which our ministering High Priest sends forth into our hearts. The
atonement therefore involves not only the transcendent act of the cross, but
also the benefits of Christ's sacrifice which are continually being applied to
needy man. And this will continue on to the close of human probation.
For extracts concerning the atonement, see Appendix 661.
I. The Vast Sweep of the Atonement
In common with conservative Christians, Adventists teach an
atonement that necessitated the incarnation of the eternal Word—the Son of
God—in order that He might become the Son of man; and living His life among
men as our kinsman in the flesh, might die in our stead to redeem us. We
believe that the atonement provides an all-sufficient, perfect, substitutionary
sacrifice for sin, which completely satisfies the justice of God and fulfills
every requirement, so that mercy, grace, and forgiveness can be freely extended
to the repentant sinner, without compromising the holiness of God or
jeopardizing the equity of His rule. "To declare, I say, at this time his
righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth
in Jesus" (Rom. 3:26).
In this way God completely justifies the repentant sinner, however vile, and
imputes the perfect righteousness of Christ to cover his unrighteousness; and
then imparts, through sanctification, His own righteousness to the sinner, so
that he is transformed into the very likeness of Christ.
And the wondrous ultimate of it all will come through the glorification of our
bodies at the second advent of our Lord, which will bring full and final
deliverance from the very presence of sin forevermore. Christ, then, is in
Himself the sacrificial offering, the ministering priest, and the coming king.
That covers past, present, and future. And this, we believe, will eventuate in
the final eradication from the universe forever of all sin and its effects as
well as its malign originator. This, we understand, is the ultimate effect of
the atonement made on Calvary
II. Atoning Sacrifice and Ministering Priest
We feel it to be most important that Christians sense the
difference between the atoning act of Christ on the cross as a forever
completed sacrifice, and His work in the sanctuary as officiating high priest,
ministering the benefits of that sacrifice. What He did on
the cross was for all men (1 John 2:2). What He does in the sanctuary is for
those only who accept His great salvation.
Both aspects are integral and inseparable phases of God's infinite work of
redemption. The one provides the sacrificial offering; the other provides the
application of the sacrifice to the repentant soul. The one was made by Christ
as victim; the other, by Christ as priest. Both are aspects of God's great
redemptive plan for man.
That Seventh-day Adventists are not alone in this concept is evident from the
following extracts from a recent book:
The Atonement is the work of God in Christ for man's salvation and
renewal.—Vincent Taylor, The Cross of Christ (Macmillan, 1956), p. 87.
In its nature and scope, the Atonement is both deliverance and attainment. It
concerns man's sin and his blessedness; and it cannot be the one without being
at the same time the other.—Ibid., pp. 87, 88.
It is important at the outset to distinguish two aspects of the doctrine which
can be separated in thought, but not without grave loss in practice. These are
. . . (a) the saving deed of Christ, and (b) the appropriation of His work by
faith, both individual and communal. These two together constitute the
Atonement.—Ibid., p. 88.
In consequence, atonement is both accomplished for us and wrought in
us.Ibid., p. 89.
Perhaps our greatest need today, if we would rise above the poverty of much of
our worship, is to experience once more the wonder and reliance upon Christ's
ceaseless saving ministry, which is the true centre of Christian devotion and
the abiding source of Christian living.—Ibid., p. 104.
When, therefore, one hears an Adventist say, or reads in Adventist literature—even in the writings of Ellen G.
Christ is making atonement now,
it should be understood that we mean simply that Christ is now making
application of the benefits of the sacrificial atonement He made on the cross;
that He is making it efficacious for us individually, according to our needs
and requests. Mrs. White herself, as far back as 1857, clearly explained what
she means when she writes of Christ's making atonement for us in His ministry:
The great Sacrifice had been offered and had been accepted, and the Holy Spirit
which descended on the day of Pentecost carried the minds of the disciples from
the earthly sanctuary to the heavenly, where Jesus had entered by His own
blood, to shed upon His disciples the benefits of His atonement. Early
Writings, p. 260. (Italics supplied.)