Atoning Blood 7

By Philip Graham Ryken

The way God justifies sinners is on the basis of the perfect life and sacrificial death of Jesus Christ: “When God justifies sinners, he is not declaring bad people to be good, or saying that they are not sinners after all. He is pronouncing them legally righteous, free from any liability to the broken law, because he himself in his Son has born the penalty of their law-breaking.”[1]  The payment of this penalty satisfies God’s justice and thus provides the legal basis for our justification. As Paul will say a little later in Romans: “We have now been justified by his blood” (Rom. 5:9).

This saving truth brought lasting joy to William Cowper.  Cowper is well known for his gospel hymns.  What is perhaps less well known is that Cowper suffered a miserable childhood, which included the death of his mother and, afterwards, horrific bullying by some older boys.  It is not surprising that throughout his life Cowper struggled with severe bouts of depression.  Yet Cowper also knew the love of Jesus and his atoning work.  Here is how he described his coming to Christ for justification:

The happy period which was to shake off my fetters and afford me a clear opening of the free mercy of God in Christ Jesus was now arrived. I flung myself into a chair near the window, and, seeing a Bible there, ventured once more to apply to it for comfort and instruction. The first verses I saw were in the third chapter of Romans: “Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God hath set forth to be propitiation, through faith in his blood, to manifest his righteousness.’’ Immediately I received strength to believe, and the full beams of the Sun of Righteousness shone on me. I saw the sufficiency of the atonement he had made, my pardon in his blood, and the fullness and completeness of his justification. In a moment I believed and received the gospel.[2]

“My pardon in his blood”—this phrase aptly summarizes the biblical doctrine of justification.  Paul is explicit in calling us to put our faith in that pardoning blood, to believe in the atoning work of Christ on the cross.  We are justified by faith, which is mentioned not less than six times in Romans 3: “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe” (Rom. 3:22).  God “justifies the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:26).  A person is “justified by faith apart from works of the law” (Rom. 3:28).  The emphasis is unmistakable: we are justified by faith. 

For our present purposes, what is said in verse 25 is especially noteworthy: we receive the blood of Jesus by faith.  Today we are sometimes told that we need to get away from talking about the blood of Jesus.  Yet the Bible presents the precious blood of Jesus as the atonement for our sins and thus as the object of justifying faith. 

[1] John R. W. Stott, The Cross of Christ (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1986), 190.

[2] Cowper’s story is recounted in F. W. Boreham, A Bunch of Everlastings: Or Texts That Made History (Philadelphia: Judson Press, 1920), 120-28.