Cowling Church: Atonement Satisfaction

On Good Friday, I mooched around the parish churchyard of Cowling, an old industrial village barely across the border into Yorkshire. It sits in a rather dramatic valley, and boasts a pretty church, a compulsory feature of rural, English settlements.

The church itself is not old, dating only to 1845, so it has an abundance of imposing, dark Victorian gravestones. Many of them have inscriptions which follow the occupants’ details, offering some trite ditty or pious repartee. So awash was nineteenth-century Britain with Christian influence, that masons and undertakers would glibly offer families a selection of pseudo-religious doggerel: ‘Sleeping in the Lord’, ‘Until the dawn’, ‘Till we meet again in the realms of the blessed’, etc. Some might be sincere and carefully chosen, but not unlike the little poems in birthdays cards sent by menfolk, they were quite possibly just tacked on, nonchalantly.

I then came across one of the best gravestone maxims I have ever seen. Of Joseph Stephenson, who died aged 75 in 1909, it is said:

‘He was satisfied with the atonement of Christ’.

Whatever else he was, whatever else he believed, or did, or achieved, he is now remembered chiefly for what Christ did for him on the cross. Furthermore, the late Mr Stephenson keeps good company in this regard, for God the Father found satisfaction in it, also. Christ’s payment for sin was more than sufficient to cover that man’s sins, and all others’ beside. Says the Father of Christ’s atoning death, in which this dead man derived so much satisfaction:

By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many,

For He shall bear their iniquities. (Isaiah 53:11)

Of all the religious and devout guff I have read on Victorian gravestones, this one in particular assures me of the deceased’s real understanding of Christ’s finished, redemptive work. If Mr Stephenson was satisfied by the atoning Christ on earth, how much more now, when he beholds Him on His glorious throne?