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The Majesty of the Atonement of Jesus Christ

Or, Christ's Humanity Provided an Atoning Sacrifice for the Sins of Mankind

"And not only so, but we also joy in God through our LORD Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the Atonement"
(Romans 5:11).

by Tom Stewart


t this moment, only a short time before the "glorious appearing of the Great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ" (Titus 2:13), it is a retrospective of awe and wonder that we would consider again the central, fundamental, and timeless theme of the atoning self-sacrifice of the Creator for the well-being of rebellious and sinful man. "And without controversy great is the mystery of Godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory" (1Timothy 3:16). Nothing can compare to "His Unspeakable Gift" (2Corinthians 9:15), that the Son of God "gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto Himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works" (Titus 2:14). May His Name be forever blessed "for His Great Love wherewith He loved us" (Ephesians 2:4) by His voluntary sacrifice, that we "might have Life through His Name" (John 20:31)!

What Does the Term Atonement Mean?

Charles G. Finney best summarized the meaning of the term atonement.

"The English word atonement is synonymous with the Hebrew word cofer. This is a noun from the verb caufar, to cover. ["Make thee an ark of gopher wood; rooms shalt thou make in the ark, and shalt pitch <Hebrew, kaphar or caufar, meaning 'to cover'> it within and without with pitch" (Genesis 6:14).] The cofer or cover, was the name of the lid or cover of the ark of the covenant, and constituted what was called the mercy-seat. ["And thou shalt put it before the vail that is by the ark of the testimony, before the mercy seat <Hebrew, kapporeth, meaning 'mercy seat or cover of the ark of the covenant'> that is over the testimony, where I will meet with thee" (Exodus 30:6).] The Greek word rendered atonement is katallage. ["And not only so, but we also joy in God through our LORD Jesus Christ, by Whom we have now received the atonement <Greek, katallage, meaning 'atonement or reconciliation'>" (Romans 5:11).] This means reconciliation to favour, or more strictly, the means or conditions of reconciliation to favour; from katallasso, to 'change, or exchange.' ["To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling <Greek, katallasso, meaning 'to change or exchange, especially of money'> the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the Word of Reconciliation <Greek, katallage>" (2Corinthians 5:19).] The term properly means substitution. An examination of these original words, in the connection in which they stand, will show that the atonement is the governmental substitution [or, exchanging] of the sufferings of Christ for the punishment of sinners. ["For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the Just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit" (1Peter 3:18).] It is a covering of their sins by his sufferings" (from Finney's "Lectures on Systematic Theology" ---New Window, Lecture 34 on "Atonement" ---New Window).

"But we see Jesus, Who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that He by the grace of God should taste death for every man" (Hebrews 2:9).

What Is the Purpose of Christ's Suffering in the Atonement?

The One-Time-Only Sacrifice of Jesus Christ for the sins of mankind required the suffering of our LORD, while in human flesh.
"By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all" (Hebrews 10:10). More than mental anguish, Christ suffered in the flesh that all men might be saved. "For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the Just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit" (1Peter 3:18). But, why did God deem it wise, i.e., the most fit means to the end of man's salvation, to suffer and die while in human flesh to accomplish the salvation and reclamation of man from sin? Could He not have accomplished it another way? Since the "Only Wise God Our Saviour" (Jude 25), chose that path, then it must be the most wise way. "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out!" (Romans 11:33). But, more importantly, the Almighty's choice of manifesting Himself in human flesh through His Only Begotten Son, and dying for our sins, has the most powerful persuasive effect of subduing our tendency to sin. "He will turn again, He will have compassion upon us; He will subdue our iniquities; and Thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea" (Micah 7:19). Confirming all holy beings in their holiness so that there could never be another outbreak of sin, such as when Lucifer rebelled in Heaven, is a prime purpose of the Atonement of the LORD Jesus Christ. "Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body, according to the working whereby He is able even to subdue all things unto Himself" (Philippians 3:21).

Why Is an Atonement Necessary?

Man has been so constituted by God with a moral nature that recognizes the reality of God's existence and the necessity of gratefully acknowledging and glorifying Him.
"20 For the invisible things of Him from the Creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His Eternal Power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: 21 Because that, when they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened" (Romans 1:20-21). Gratitude to God would naturally manifest itself in love to God and to man, i.e., "Thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself" (Luke 10:27), but this love of God and man did not happen. "14 For when the Gentiles, which have not the Law, do by nature the things contained in the Law, these, having not the Law, are a law unto themselves: 15 Which shew the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another" (Romans 2:14-15).

Throughout history, man has known that he has offended God, and that he needs some kind of expiation, reconciliation, or atonement for his sins or offenses against God.
"For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, Him declare I unto you" (Acts 17:23). The Old Testament is complete with a dispensation of offerings and sacrifices to Jehovah. "These are the feasts of the LORD, which ye shall proclaim to be holy convocations, to offer an offering made by fire unto the LORD, a burnt offering, and a meat offering, a sacrifice, and drink offerings, every thing upon his [its] day" (Leviticus 23:37). Even the New Testament understands the need for atonement to be made for the forgiveness of sin. "And almost all things are by the Law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission" (Hebrews 9:22).

If man is so certain that he must be forgiven for his sins, then it is even more certain that God knew of this necessity long beforehand.
"Your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask Him" (Matthew 6:8). But, why must such extreme measures be taken to manifest the Son of God in human flesh and cause Him to suffer so? The atonement was necessary because sin violated the Law of the Kingdom of God and threatened to bring it down for all the angelic and holy beings, as well as to secure the salvation, sanctification, happiness, and future of mortal man. "Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the Law: for sin is the transgression of the Law" (1John 3:4). When children knowingly and willfully break family rules, human parents know that they must uphold the integrity of the rules, as much as they would desire to seek the reconciliation of their offending children; thus, in the counsel of God, it was deemed wise for the Son, the Lamb, to be "slain from the foundation of the world" (Revelation 13:8). Accordingly, the atonement by the LORD Jesus Christ provided God, the Head of the Moral Government of the Universe, with the justification for His pardoning of our sins, while still upholding the worth of His most holy Law, which benefits all holy beings-- God Himself, man, and angels. "24 Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: 25 Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood, to declare His righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; 26 To declare, I say, at this time His righteousness: that He might be just, and the justifier of Him which believeth in Jesus" (Romans 3:24-26).

Miscellaneous Comments

If the Almighty desired only the letter of the Law to be executed, then the Retributive Justice called down upon sinning angels would have sufficed to stop the spread of rebellion in the universe.
"The soul that sinneth, it shall die" (Ezekiel 18:4, 20). Retributive Justice is the concept of an exact payment for sin, that the sinner must and will be punished without probation or mercy, as demonstrated in God's swift judgment of the rebellious angels. "2 For if the word spoken by angels was stedfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompence of reward; 3 How shall we escape, if we neglect So Great Salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the LORD, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard Him" (Hebrews 2:2-3). But, in the wisdom and love of God, if the spirit of the Law would be enacted, then His Public Justice could enable the sinner to be reclaimed, while still upholding the integrity of the Moral Law. "29 And Jesus answered him, The first of all the Commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one LORD: 30 And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first Commandment... 33 And to love Him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbour as himself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices" (Mark 12:29-30, 33).

Public Justice is the administration of the Law that secures the highest good and well-being of the universe, while upholding the Law; hence, it secures the welfare of the general public. The concept of the spirit of the Law contrasted to the letter of the Law was illustrated by the LORD Jesus, while in human flesh.
"1 At that time Jesus went on the sabbath day through the corn; and His disciples were an hungred, and began to pluck the ears of corn, and to eat. 2 But when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto Him, Behold, Thy disciples do that which is not lawful to do upon the sabbath day. 3 But He said unto them, Have ye not read what David did, when he was an hungred, and they that were with him; 4 How he entered into the house of God, and did eat the shewbread, which was not lawful for him to eat, neither for them which were with him, but only for the priests? 5 Or have ye not read in the Law, how that on the sabbath days the priests in the temple profane the sabbath, and are blameless? 6 But I say unto you, That in this place is One greater than the temple. 7 But if ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless. 8 For the Son of Man is Lord even of the sabbath day" (Matthew 12:1-8). Therefore, exception may be made to the execution of the letter of the Law, but never to the spirit of the Law.

The spirit of the Law is the same as the Public Justice that Charles G. Finney placed in contrast to Retributive Justice, i.e.,
"the soul that sinneth, it shall die" (Ezekiel 18:4, 20). Notice how Finney points out that Retributive Justice makes no exception to the execution of the penalty for the infraction of the rules, as when the angels sinned, there was quick and immediate punishment without opportunity for salvation. "For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment" (2Peter 2:4).

"There is an important distinction between retributive and public justice. Retributive justice consists in treating every subject of government according to his character. It respects the intrinsic merit or demerit of each individual, and deals with him accordingly. Public justice, in its exercise, consists in the promotion and protection of the public interests, by such legislation and such an administration of law, as is demanded by the highest good of the public. It implies the execution of the penalties of law where the precept is violated, unless something else is done that will as effectually secure the public interests. When this is done, public justice demands, that the execution of the penalty shall be dispensed with by extending pardon to the criminal. Retributive justice makes no exceptions, but punishes without mercy in every instance of crime. Public justice makes exceptions, as often as this is permitted or required by the public good. Public justice is identical with the spirit of the moral law, and in its exercise, regards only the spirit of the law. Retributive justice cleaves to the letter, and makes no exceptions to the rule, 'the soul that sinneth, it shall die'" (from Finney's "Lectures on Systematic Theology" ---New Window, Lecture 34 on "Atonement" ---New Window).

The atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ was for all men. "But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that He by the grace of God should taste death for every man" (Hebrews 2:9). The willingness of the LORD Jesus to humble Himself to become a man, made possible His appeasement for our sins; yea, for the sins of the whole world. "And He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world" (1John 2:2).

"14. The spirit of the moral law can no more be dispensed with by the lawgiver than it can be repealed. The spirit of the law requires that, when the precept is violated, the penalty shall be executed, or that something shall be done that will as effectually and impressively negative the inference or assumption, that sin can escape with impunity under the government of God, beyond the limits of the race for whom the atonement was especially made, as the execution of the law would do. The following things must be true under a perfect government, as has been said above.

"(1.) That sin cannot be forgiven merely upon condition of repentance; for this condition is within the power of the subject, so that he might then be sure of impunity.

"(2.) Nor can it be forgiven upon a condition that shall be repeated, for this would encourage the hope of impunity.

"(3.) Nor can it be forgiven upon a condition that will extend to all worlds, and throughout all eternity, for this would be equivalent to forgiving sin merely upon condition of repentance, without any reference to the authority of law or to public justice.

"(4.) Hence it is evident that it must originate in sovereign clemency, subject to the previous conditions."
(from Finney's "Lectures on Systematic Theology" ---New Window, Lecture 34 on "Atonement" ---New Window).

A grand mistake of modern theology is to confound Retributive and Public Justice.

"12. If mercy or pardon is to be extended to any who have violated law, it ought to be done in a manner and upon some conditions that will settle the question, and establish the truth, that the execution of penalties is not to be dispensed with merely upon condition of the repentance of the offender. In other words, if pardon is to be extended, it should be known to be upon a condition not within the power of the offender. Else he may know, that he can violate the law, and yet be sure to escape with impunity, by fulfilling the conditions of forgiveness, which are, upon the supposition, all within his own power.

"13. So, if mercy is to be exercised, it should be upon a condition that is not to be repeated. The thing required by public justice is, that nothing shall be done to undermine or disturb the influence of law. Hence it cannot consent to have the execution of penalties dispensed with, upon any condition that shall encourage the hope of impunity
[exemption from punishment]. Therefore, public justice cannot consent to the pardon of sin but upon condition of an atonement, and also upon the assumption that atonement is not to be repeated, nor to extend its benefits beyond the limits of the race for whom it was made, and that only for a limited time. If an atonement were to extend its benefits to all worlds and to all eternity, it would nullify its own influence, and encourage the universal hope of impunity, in case the precepts of the law were violated. This would be indefinitely worse than no atonement; and public justice might as well consent to have mercy exercised, without any regard to securing the authority and influence of law" (from Finney's "Lectures on Systematic Theology" ---New Window, Lecture 34 on "Atonement" ---New Window).


The most majestic act of God towards us was the Atonement of Jesus Christ on the Cross for all mankind. So marvelous was this act of atonement, that the angels were quite eager to see how the LORD would handle it.
"Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the Gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from Heaven; which things the angels desire to look into" (1Peter 1:12). Eternity cannot exhaust our study of the love of God that was manifested in His atonement for us. "14 For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our LORD Jesus Christ, 15 Of whom the whole family in Heaven and Earth is named, 16 That He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man; 17 That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 May be able to comprehend with all Saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; 19 And to know the Love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God. 20 Now unto Him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the Power that worketh in us, 21 Unto Him be glory in the Church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen" (Ephesians 3:14-21).


Tom Stewart

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No Greater Love

This art print, "No Greater Love" by Robert Grace is provided courtesy of Christ-Centered Art ---New Window.

What the Bible Says About
Why Did Jesus Have to Suffer?
---New Window
by Tom Stewart
"Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the Just for the unjust,
that He might bring us to God,
being put to Death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit"

(1Peter 3:18).
"The Natural Love that we have for ourselves is a Universal Truth, for 'no man ever yet hated his own flesh' (Ephesians 5:29); and, Jesus the Son of Man was no different. 'For we have not an High Priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin' (Hebrews 4:15). He had no special enjoyment of suffering, just as we do not enjoy suffering. 'Wherefore in all things it behoved Him to be made like unto His brethren, that He might be a Merciful and Faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make Reconciliation for the sins of the people' (Hebrews 2:17). It is difficult for the Righteous to watch the Guiltless and Innocent suffer, because their suffering is our suffering. 'Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them; and them which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body' (Hebrews 13:3). Further, we have been advised by the Scriptures to remain 'simple' concerning the specifics of the sufferings that evil men inflict. 'For your Obedience is come abroad unto all men. I am glad therefore on your behalf: but yet I would have you wise unto that which is good, and simple [Greek, akeraion, harmless] concerning evil' (Romans 16:19). It was only the Providence of God that allowed the human mother of Jesus to be at the scene of Christ's Crucifixion, and one can only imagine the impression upon Mary as she beheld the Agony of her Son upon the Cross! Perhaps it was at that moment that Mary recalled the prophetic words of Simeon from the dedication of Jesus. '34 And Simeon blessed them, and said unto Mary His mother, Behold, this Child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a Sign which shall be spoken against; 35 (Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed' (Luke 2:34-35). For those we love, suffering and even death for ourselves would be more desirable than to watch them suffer. But, Jesus willingly set His face like flint to suffer the Cruel Death of the Cross for friend and foe alike, e.g., the Roman centurion in charge of His Crucifixion exclaimed about the events and manner of Christ's Death on the Cross, 'Truly this was the Son of God' (Matthew 27:54)."

The Amazing Humanity of Jesus Christ ---New Window
Or, The Benefit of Christ's Birth

by Tom Stewart
"And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the Only Begotten of the Father,) full of Grace and Truth"
(John 1:14).
"The Old Testament of the Scriptures is replete with clues of God's purpose to redeem and govern mankind through the human advent of the Divine Son of God.
'6 For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given: and the government shall be upon His shoulder: and His Name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. 7 Of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon His kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of Hosts will perform this' (Isaiah 9:6-7). What astounds us is that the Son of God condescended to become a man-- to suffer all the difficulties of the flesh and the human condition, 'yet without sin' (Hebrews 4:15). Heaven will surely be filled with the Saints' praise and admiration for so bold an act of love that the Son of Man would become human flesh and then 'lay down His life for His friends' (John 15:13). 'Ye are My friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you' (15:14)."

His Resurrection Is The Highest Proof That Jesus Is The Messiah ---New Window
by Tom Stewart
"What evidence should satisfy the most inquisitive mind that Jesus is the Messiah? All of humanity must be born into this world, and it will be by the hand of the Almighty that He will take us out of this world, i.e., 'And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this The Judgment' (Hebrews 9:27), so birth and death are common to man. However, who but God Alone has the Power to resurrect from the dead? 'God hath spoken once; twice have I heard this; that Power belongeth unto God' (Psalm 62:11). Even if a questioning mind could not settle whether Jesus resurrected by His own Power or whether it was the Power of the Almighty to resurrect Jesus from the dead, Why would Jehovah resurrect Jesus and thereby vindicate the claims of Jesus of Nazareth that He would Rise again after three days, unless Jesus is the Messiah? '3 Concerning His Son Jesus Christ our LORD, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh; 4 and declared to be the Son of God with Power, according to the Spirit of Holiness, by the Resurrection from the dead' (Romans 1:3-4)."

What Happened in Gethsemane? ---New Window
by Tom Stewart
"The Garden of Gethsemane is best known to us for the scene of the betrayal of the LORD into the hands of the 'chief priests and elders of the people' (Matthew 26:47). Of the events prior to His betrayal that night in Gethsemane, we are called upon to consider the nature of Jesus' agony when He prayed, 'Father, if Thou be willing, remove this cup from Me: nevertheless not My will, but Thine, be done' (Luke 22:42)."

Without Jesus, My Wage is Death ---New Window
by Katie Stewart

"Without Jesus, as my very
'Life', no amassed regretting, no mustered repenting, no aggregate of tears-- NOTHING I could ever do-- could EVER change the wage I had earned for the sin I had committed against God's Holy Law. 'Against Thee, Thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Thy sight: that Thou mightest be Justified when Thou speakest, and be Clear when Thou judgest' (Luke 20:21). My wage was rightfully-- Death. 'The soul that sinneth, it shall die' (Ezekiel 18:20). A Death which would forever separate me from the Creator of my soul. 'Commit the keeping of their souls to Him in well doing, as unto a Faithful Creator' (1Peter 4:19)... Without Jesus Christ, we will pay our own sin debt, 'for the wages of sin is Death' (Romans 6:23). With the Atoning Work of the Cross that the LORD and Saviour Jesus Christ suffered, our debt of Death has been paid in full. He did that for us! As 'The Gift of God' (6:23), the Father has given Jesus Christ, His Son, to us. He is our 'Eternal Life' (6:23). And, dear reader, if you receive Him, this 'Life' begins in you NOW. You will live victoriously-- without sin-- ONLY if you live 'through Jesus Christ' (6:23). 'In this was manifested the Love of God toward us, because that God sent His Only Begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him' (1John 4:9)."

What the Bible Says About Temptation ---New Window
by Tom and Katie Stewart

"Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil" (Matthew 6:13).
"This is a study about understanding temptation, not simply because the Master enjoined, 'Pray that ye enter not into temptation' (Luke 22:40), but because we also desire to cooperate with the Holy Spirit in doing all that is humanly possible to prevent temptation from turning into sin. '10 With my whole heart have I sought Thee: O let me not wander from Thy Commandments... 133 Order my steps in Thy Word: and let not any iniquity have dominion over me' (Psalm 119:10, 133). From the first temptation of Eve in the Garden when the Serpent succeeded in causing our First Parents to doubt the love of God, to the final 'Hour of Temptation' (Revelation 3:10) of the Apocalypse, mankind has struggled, and will struggle, with the necessity to overcome temptation. Our present unwillingness to enter into temptation is the same unwillingness to enter into the 'Hour of Temptation' (3:10) soon prophesied to come upon this world. 'Because thou hast kept the Word of My Patience, I also will keep thee from the Hour of Temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the Earth' (3:10). But, since 'all the Promises of God in [Christ] are Yea, and in Him Amen' (2Corinthians 1:20), we can lay hold of the Master's instruction to 'pray that ye enter not into temptation' (Luke 22:40), with the bold assurance that, indeed, 'sin shall not have dominion over [us]' (Romans 6:14)!"

Seven Reasons Why I Believe in
by Dr. Ian R. K. Paisley
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"This vital consideration brings us to the fulcrum of the great operation of the Divine Revelation, to the centre of the vast circumference of Divine Redemption and to the very heart of the throbbing purpose of Divine Reconciliation. We come from the shallows of human speculation to the depths of divine revelation when we come to the Blood. We step at this juncture from the shadows of Old Testament typology to the blazing sunshine of New Testament theology. It is here we launch our souls from the shores of man's estimate into the boundless, tideless, endless sea of God's ultimate."

Seven Reasons Why I Believe in
by Dr. Ian R. K. Paisley
---New Window
"The Resurrection is essential to Christianity, for by it alone can Christianity be confirmed. The Resurrection is the great corroborator of the Christian gospel. Remove this keystone and the goodly temple crashes into ruin. As life is essential to living so the Resurrection is essential to a living Christianity. Take away the Resurrection and Christianity becomes a dead letter, but another contribution to the world's Pantheon."
"And if Christ be not raised, your Faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins" (1Corinthians 15:17).


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