What is "propitiation?" By propitiation we are to understand, a sacrifice acceptable to Jehovah; by which God, or rather the attributes of God are propitiated; whereby God can be favourable; whereby mercy, grace, and pardon can freely flow forth. Now sin, and the law condemning sin, barred out, barred back, the favour of God. They were the opposing obstacle to the love of God. For God cannot, as God, love sin and sinners; therefore, the sin of man, and the holy law of God, the transcript of his infinite and eternal purity barred back, so to speak, the favour of God.
It was needful, then, that this barrier should be removed, that a channel might be provided, through which the grace, favour, and mercy of God might flow: in a word, that sin might be blotted out, and that the law might be accomplished and fulfilled in all its strict requirements, that God "might be just," retaining every righteous attribute, not sacrificing one of his holy perfections—and yet, though just, perfectly just, "the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus."
But how was this to be effected? No seraph, no bright angel could ever have devised a way. It lay locked up in the bosom of the Three-One God from everlasting; and that was, that the only-begotten Son of God, who lay in the bosom of the Father from all eternity, "the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his Person," should become a bleeding Lamb, "the Lamb slain from before the foundation of the world;" that he should take into union with his own divine Person a human nature, "the flesh and blood of the children," pure, spotless, and holy, and offer up that nature, that body which God prepared for him, a holy sacrifice.
When he came into the world, the sacrifice began; and every holy thought, every holy word, and every holy action, in suffering and performing, that passed through the heart, dropped from the lips, or was performed by the hands of the only-begotten Son of God, when he was upon earth, was part of that sacrifice. But the grand consummation of it (the offering up of that body especially) was, when it was nailed to the accursed tree, and blood was shed to put away sin. Now, this is the propitiation, the redemption, the sacrifice, the way, the only way, whereby sin is expiated; the way, the only way, whereby sin is pardoned.
But in order that this blessed sacrifice and atoning propitiation may pass over to us; that its value, validity, efficacy, and blessedness may be felt in our consciences, there must be that wrought in our souls whereby it is embraced. The only salvation for our souls is the propitiation made by Jesus upon Calvary's tree. There is no other sacrifice for sin but that. But how is that to pass into our hearts? How is the efficacy of this atoning sacrifice to be made personally ours? It is by faith. Does not the Holy Ghost declare this by the mouth of the Apostle? He says, "Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood."
Now, this is the turning point in the soul's salvation. This is the grand point to have decided in a man's conscience before God. This is the Cape to be doubled by every one that sets forth upon the sea of salvation. Before he can double this Cape, he is driven back by the storms, and tossed by the winds; and he often fears lest he should be engulphed in the billows. But when, by living faith, he is enabled to double this Cape, to see the propitiation through the blood of the Lamb, to feel his very heart and soul going out after, and leaning upon, and feeling a measure of solid rest and peace in the blood of the sacrifice offered upon Calvary—then he has doubled the Cape of Good Hope, then he has passed into the Pacific Ocean from the stormy Atlantic, and then he begins to receive into his conscience a measure of the favour and grace of the Lord God Almighty.