What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul! What wondrous love is this, O my soul! What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss To bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul, To bear the dreadful curse for my soul.
(What Wondrous Love is this?, An American Folk Hymn)
Of all the great deeds of love that have been, it is the death of Christ that stands out above them all. It was this marvelous love that caused the hymn writer to pen the words, “What wondrous love is this, O my soul!” But how many hear of Christ’s death without any realization of what it has accomplished? How many have heard the tale of Christ’s great love and yet failed to see what He has done? And how many who have known the measure of Christ’s love forget or ignore what He has accomplished? In this essay, we will examine the great work accomplished by Christ’s death. For some, we will tread new ground, making fresh discoveries, and uncovering unfamiliar aspects of this marvelous act of love. For others, it may simply be another reminder of the marvelous salvation which we have found in Christ. Yet for all, whether those who walk new ground, or those who travel a well-trod way, I pray that we may be filled with thanksgiving and awe at the wondrous love of Christ. The Apostle John speaks of this love of Christ, saying, “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” It is on this aspect of God’s love that we will focus in this essay: the propitiation for our sins, the Christ's sacrifice as He bore undeserved the wrath of God. The idea of the wrath of God is inherent in this doctrine. Yet this often results in its rejection by many, who ask how a loving and merciful God could be wrathful towards another. It is too easy for us to focus on such attributes of God as His love, mercy, and grace. But this presents an inaccurate picture. For though God is love, He is also just. Indeed, the Scriptures claim that “All God’s ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he” (Deuteronomy 32:4). The prophet Habakkuk cried out to God, saying, “You are of purer eyes than to behold evil, And cannot look on wickedness.” God is a holy God and just. He cannot endure evil, nor can He even look upon wickedness; He will punish wrongdoing and give to evildoers their just rewards. But who can claim to be without sin? The Scriptures claim, “there is not a just man on earth who does good and does not sin” (Ecclesiastes 7:20). Thus, we find that not a one among us is free from God's righteous wrath. We were brought before the bar and found guilty by our just Judge. The verdict was declared: guilty, and deserving of death. But not mere extinction, but rather infinite suffering, for such was the merit of our sins. Yet, God, our righteous judge, provided a propitiation: His own beloved Son. We read that “God put Christ forward as a propitiation by his blood to be received by faith” (Romans 3:25). Christ, God incarnate, came to earth and took our place, bearing the wrath and punishment that should have been ours. Such was the love of God that He sent His Son, His eternally beloved son, to bear the penalty for the sins of man! John Piper puts it well, saying, “God sends his own Son to absorb his wrath and bear the curse for all who trust him.” What wondrous love is this! He who deserved all glory and honor became the subject of God’s wrath! Yet, not only did He bear God’s wrath, Christ, Himself holy and without sin, took upon Himself the sins of His people. It is impossible for us to imagine the extent of this misery, for Christ, whose eyes are purer “than to behold evil,” was made sin. He who was pure and holy became filthy and detestable, for, though spotless and without sin, He became sinful with the sins of His people. As Peter later wrote, “He Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree.” Our sins were imputed to Christ, ascribed to Him, so that our guilt became His. Though all sin was abhorrent to Him, yet He chose to become guilty of our sins. “He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed.” Ours should have been the suffering that was Christ’s! Yet He chose to be rejected by the Father and receive the wrath and punishment that was justly ours. As Saint Bernard wrote, “Mine, mine was the transgression but Thine the deadly pain!” Yet, by His suffering, He has brought peace between God and man. The wrath of God was diverted from us. Not cancelled nor withdrawn, God’s just wrath was absorbed by the suffering Christ, spent to the end. As theologian William G.T. Shedd put it, “By the suffering of the sinner's atoning substitute, the divine wrath at sin is propitiated, and as a consequence of this propitiation the punishment due to sin is released.” What wondrous love is this! In our miserable depravity, we loved what God hated and hated that which He loved. We scorned Him, our rightful Lord and Sovereign. Yet He did not treat us as our sins deserved but instead took on Himself the penalty that justice demanded. What wondrous love is this! “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:10) Such love inspired the hymnist to write,
When I was sinking down, sinking down, sinking down, When I was sinking down, sinking down, When I was sinking down beneath God’s righteous frown, Christ laid aside His crown for my soul, for my soul, Christ laid aside His crown for my soul.
What then should our response be to such wondrous love? Too often we are proud and arrogant, as though we had done something deserving of praise! Too often we forget the One to whom we owe all. We turn aside yet again to our own way and pursue our own gain. We treat the death of Christ lightly as something of little worth as we continue in our sin, foolishly thinking that we are safe from all condemnation. “We are under grace,” say these fools. “Are we not free? What fear shall we have of the consequence of sin?” But what ingratitude is this? For Christ bore our punishment that we might live for Him. As we read in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” In Christ’s death, our sins also were put to death! How then shall we continue to live in them? Shall we treat with such impertinence the sacrifice of Christ? No, let us avoid such arrogance! For what cause have we for this pride? Or as the Apostle Paul put it, “Where is boasting then? It is excluded” (Romans 3:27). Ought not we rather to respond with deep humility and gratitude to the marvelous grace of God? Let us then give heed to the words of Jeremiah, “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might; let not the rich man glory in his riches: But let him that glorieth glory in the Lord!”
To God and to the Lamb, I will sing, I will sing; To God and to the Lamb, I will sing. To God and to the Lamb Who is the great “I Am”; While millions join the theme, I will sing, I will sing; While millions join the theme, I will sing.
And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on; And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on. And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing and joyful be; And through eternity, I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on; And through eternity, I’ll sing on.
(What Wondrous Love is this?, An American Folk Hymn)