In the 1650s, the Puritan, Elkanah Wales, wrote a book on the atonement entitled Mount Ebal levell’d or redemption from the curse. In this treatise he draws three conclusions.
The first conclusion is that all men are under the curse of the law (see ET, February 2014). The second is that Christ was made a curse for us by having our sin imputed to him and enduring the wrath of God on our behalf.
‘The Lord Jesus … steps in and stands between us and the blow; yea, he takes this wrath and curse off from us unto himself’.
Further, Christ ‘stands under the stroke of that curse, which of right belongs to us, so that it lies not now any longer on the backs of poor sinners, but on him, for them, and in their stead; therefore he is called a surety’.
Christ came as the second Adam ‘that he may restore lost man into an estate of blessedness … to satisfy the demands of the law to the uttermost; he becomes first a curse for them, and then their righteousness, and so their blessedness’.
Our enormous debt to God for our sins can never be paid by our own works or feeble righteousness. Instead, ‘the Lord Jesus stands surety for us, renegade malefactors, making himself liable to all that curse which belongs to us, that he might both answer the law fully and bring us back again to God’.
Our own attempts at rendering satisfaction to the justice of God fail without Christ’s perfection, incarnation, atonement and resurrection. God’s only Son had to take upon himself our human nature, have our sin imputed to him and suffer God’s wrath against our sin for satisfaction to be rendered.
In Christ’s death ‘all our iniquities (in the punishments of them) met in him, as all rivers in one sea, all arrows in one butt, all the regiments of an army in one place of rendezvous, therefore he was oppressed; for he was brought forth as a lamb to the slaughter’.
He died our death for us in body and soul and was forsaken by God. The full cup of God’s wrath was poured out on him when he bore our sins on the cross.
Wales describes the effect of this graphically: ‘The Lord took him and plunged him into the sea of his wrath; all the waves and billows of it came rolling over his head, and he sunk down into the very depths of death’.
Through his death, Christ satisfied the justice of God on behalf of undeserving sinners. Using financial debt as an illustration, Wales explains, the ‘surety may satisfy the creditor in the place appointed for payment, or in the open court; which being done, the debtor and surety both are acquitted, that they need not go to prison’.
God will never turn a blind eye to the sin, for sin is a great offence to him. Rather, his plan of satisfaction is built upon justice being met.
In ‘the exactness and impartialness of the justice of God against sinners’, the Lord ‘will let the curse fall even on the head of his only begotten Son, if he find sin upon him’. The cross demonstrates justice upheld in a spectacular demonstration of God’s love and free grace to undeserving sinners. We should therefore take up our cross and follow Christ, our hearts aflame with love to the Lord.
Wales’ third conclusion is that, by becoming a curse for us, Christ has redeemed us from that curse.
His sufferings were effective to that end. The serpent’s head has been crushed, the ransom paid, and we have been rescued by Christ’s conquest. So our response must be obedience to the Lord, in a voluntary ‘slavery’ to him.
Wales defines redemption as the ‘buying out, and delivering of sinners from the curse of the law, and so from the guilt of sin, and the wrath of God, and the condemnation of hell due thereunto, by the death and satisfaction of Christ the mediator’.
It is important to recognise that Jesus Christ was uniquely qualified to be our redeemer, since he is both God and man. Further, we need ‘an equal person, and price, therefore the Son of God must become a curse for us, by taking our nature, and pouring out his soul to death; and by this means justice, and mercy are reconciled, and mercy hath her free course to save sinners’.
This redemption was effective, because Jesus ‘hath given abundant satisfaction to the justice of God, and so hath weakened, yea nullified, and taken away sin in the guilt and condemning power of it’.
Ultimately, God’s justice must be satisfied in one of two ways, either by the eternal condemnation of the unrepentant sinner or by Christ’s atoning work. In both outcomes, God remains just.
In the first outcome, ‘justice requires satisfaction and calls for vengeance on sinners’, for ‘God is infinite in all his attributes, in his justice as well as his mercy. These two cannot interfere; as justice may not intrench upon mercy, so neither may mercy encroach upon justice; the glory of both must be maintained’.
This makes salvation unspeakably precious to us, for it is ‘the purchase of Christ’s satisfaction, and the sum and kernel of the work of redemption’.
Flowing from redemption are all manner of spiritual benefits, including reconciliation, remission of sins, justification, adoption, sanctification and final glorification. Redemption is free and gracious, full, plenteous and eternal. Individual Christians and the church are dear to Christ, since they are purchased by his blood.
And, crucially, believers are not left guessing whether they have been redeemed. They have the inward evidences of redemption given to them, including love to the Redeemer; weariness and dissatisfaction with sin; sincere resolutions and endeavours to abandon sin, and separate from the world; walking in the Spirit, and in purity of heart and life.
These evidences, in themselves, lead believers into a deeper assurance of salvation and greater usefulness.
Elkanah Wales addresses the Lord’s redeemed ones and tells them that as a consequence of these precious blessings, they have five duties. They are to: admire and rejoice in God’s mercy and praise God for it; hold fast to their liberty in Christ and not return to sin; give themselves to the pleasure of obedience to the Redeemer, even in persecution; labour to bring others to the Redeemer, and ‘love his appearing’.
What conclusions can we draw from Elkanah’s ministry? First, and sadly, it seems he was treated with little honour in his own hometown (John 4:44), yet he remained faithful in his life and ministry, leaving the people of Pudsey Mount Ebal levell’d as part of his legacy.
How easy it is to underestimate faithful pastors who quietly live out their commission from God in a lifelong calling, often unappreciated by the people among whom they minister. In his sovereignty, the Lord builds his church through such faithful servants.
Second, the gospel doctrine of satisfaction is of vital importance. This is particularly the case when we consider that thousands stand in pulpits, week after week, preaching an altogether different gospel. May God give us today more men like Elkanah Wales!
Third, what glorious truths Mount Ebal levell’d reminds us of! Our Saviour voluntarily allowed himself to be made a curse because of our sins. He suffered the just wrath of God on our behalf, and now the blood of Christ is sufficient for all who believe in him. Jesus Christ is our surety. Through him, God’s justice is perfectly satisfied and we are redeemed to God.
We need to live — as Wales exhorts us — fully in the light of these glorious truths.