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IT will commonly be found that half the merit of an argument lies in the genuineness of its aim, or object. If it is a campaign raised against some principle or doctrine established by the general consent of ages, there will always be a certain lightness in the matter of it that amounts to a doom of failure. If it is, instead, a contribution rather of such help as may forward the settlement of a doctrine never yet fully matured, or at least not supposed to be, the genuineness of the purpose may be taken as a weighty pledge for the solidity of the material. Nothing, meantime, steadies the vigor and fixes the tenacity of an argument, like that real insight which distinguishes accurately the present stage of the question, and the issue that begins already to be dimly foretokened. It quiets, too, in like manner, the confidence of the public addressed, and steadies the patience of their judgments, if they can discover beforehand, that it is no mere innovator that asks their attention, but one who is trying, in good faith, to make up some deficit, more or less consciously felt by every body, and bring on just that stage of progress in the truth, which its own past ages of history have been steadily preparing and asking for. No investigator appears, in this view, to be quite fair to himself, who does not somehow raise the suspicion, beforehand, that a hasty judgment allowed against him may be a real injustice to the truth.14
Under impressions like these, I undertook, at first, to pre pare, and actually prepared for the treatise that follows, a long, carefully studied, historical chapter, showing, as accurately as I was able, the precise point of progress at which we have now arrived, as regards the subject of it. In this investigation, I was able, as I believe, to make out these two very important conclusions:
(1.) That no doctrine of the atonement or reconciling work of Christ, has ever yet been developed, that can be said to have received the consent of the Christian world.
(2.) That attempts have been made, in all ages, and continually renewed, in spite of continually successive failures, to assert, in one form or another, what is called “the moral view” of the atonement, and resolve it by the power it wields in human character; and that Christian expectation just now presses in this direction more strongly than ever; raising a clear presumption, that the final doctrine of the subject will emerge at this point and be concluded in this form. Probably it may be so enlarged and qualified as to practically include much that is valued in current modes of belief supposed to be the true orthodoxy, but the grand ruling conception finally established will be, that Christ, by his suffering life and ministry, becomes a reconciling power in character, the power of God unto salvation. Or if it should still be said that he reconciles God to men by his death, that kind of declaration will be taken as being only a more popular, objective way of saying, that God is in him, reconciling men to Himself.
Having shown the steadily converging movement of history on this point, I was promising myself, as an advantage thus gained, that I should be regarded, in the treatise that follows, rather as fulfilling the history, than as raising a conflict with 15it. And yet, on further reflection, I have concluded to sur. render so great a hope of advantage and sacrifice the labor I had thus expended. I do it because the history made out, however satisfactorily to myself, is likely to be controverted by others—as what matter of dogmatic history is not?—and then I shall only have it upon me, before the public, to maintain a double issue, first of history, and then of truth; when I should evince a confidence worthier of the truth, in staking every thing on this issue by itself. The result of such a canvassing of history was just now indicated, and that must be enough. Relinquishing thus every adventitious help beyond this mere suggestion, I consent to let the doctrine I may offer stand by its own inherent merits.
At the same time it will be so convenient, in the course of my argument, to refer occasionally to Anselm’s really wonderful treatise, Cur Deus Homo, that I am tempted briefly to review the doctrine he gives. This treatise was the first of all the deliberately attempted expositions of the work of Christ. It is the seed view, in a sense, of the almost annual harvest that has followed; and as all choice seedlings are apt to degenerate in their successive propagations, we are obliged to admit that this original, first form of the doctrine was incomparably better than almost any of the revisions, or enlarged expositions of it since given.
It is a great deal better, too, than the multitude of these theologic revisions and dogmatic expositions ever conceive it to be. No writer was ever more unfortunate than Anselm is, in the feeble, undiscerning constructions put upon his argument, by the immense following that has accepted his mastership. They take what he says of debt, as if it were a matter of book-account that Christ has come to settle; or what he says of justice, as if he were engaged to even up the score of 16penalty; or, what he says of pay, as if he had come to bring in some compensative quantity of suffering valuable for the total amount, and not in any sense valuable for the quality or expression, by which it may restore the honors of God infringed by disobedience. His obedience, too, is taken as if it were a satisfaction, not because of the righteousness declared, but on account of the pains contributed in it.
Passing by matters of subordinate consequence, the scheme of his doctrine is briefly this. Considering what sin is, he finds it to be “nothing else than not to render God his due. The will of every rational creature ought to be subject completely to the will of God. This is the debt [debitum] which both angels and men owe to God, and none who pays this debt commits sin. This is justice, [justitia] or rectitude of will, which makes a being just or upright; and this is the sole and total debt of honor which we owe to God, and which God demands of us. He who does not render God this honor due [debitum] robs God of his own, and dishonors him.” —(Lib. i. Cap. xi.)
How then is the grand necessity to be met. Sin has desecrated God before the world, taken down his public honor as a father and magistrate, weakened his authority, robbed him of his just reverence. What is wanted, then, is that the original debt or due of obedience be made good; that some equal compensation be offered to God or God’s magistracy, for the loss of that honor which has been taken away. “For God’s mere compassion to let go sins, without any payment of the honor taken away, does not become Him. Thus to let go sin is the same as not to punish it. Not to punish is to let it go unsubjected to order, [inordinatum] and it does not become God to let any thing in his kingdom go unsubjected. Therefore it is unbecoming for God to let sin go thus unpunished. 17There is another thing which follows, if sin be allowed to go unpunished; with God there will be no difference between the guilty and the not guilty, which also is unbecoming to God. Besides, if sin is neither paid for nor punished, it is really kept subject to no law. Injustice, [unrighteousness] if mere compassion lets go sin, is more free than justice, [righteousness] which is very inconsistent.”—(Lib. i. Cap. xii.) Every thing turns here, it will be seen, upon the consideration of what is “becoming,” or “consistent” in God as a ruler; what is due to his authority and public standing, not upon the ground of some absolute principle called justice in His moral nature, which obliges Him, leaving no right of option, to punish wrong by the infliction of vindicatory-pains. There is no semblance of such an idea to be found in His language. On the contrary, he maintains, by a carefully framed argument, that God has a perfect “liberty,” or right of option, as regards the matter of forgiveness, restricted only by the consideration of what is becoming, or fitting, or against his dignity, or due to his magisterial position. Thus, when it is argued that even we are required by God himself to forgive our enemies without satisfaction, which makes it appear strange, or inconsistent, that He also may not do it, the reply is, in effect, that God is a magistrate, as we are not. “There is no inconsistency in God’s commanding us not to take upon ourselves what belongs to Him alone; for to execute vengeance belongs to none but Him who is Lord of all; [Dominus omnium] for when earthly potentates do this with right, God himself does it, by whom they are ordained. What you say of God’s liberty, and choice, and compassion, is true; but we ought so to interpret these things as that they need not interfere with His dignity [magisterial or personal.] For there is no liberty, except as regards what is best, or fitting; nor should that be 18called mercy which operates any consequence unbecoming to God.” He does not throw himself upon some principle of absolute philosophy, which leaves no option with God as regards the matter of punishment, no counsel or deliberative reason; but there is a why in the question, he conceives. “Observe why it is not fitting for God to do this. There is nothing less to be endured than that the creature should take away the honor due the Creator and not restore what he has taken away. Therefore the honor taken away must be repaid or punishment must follow; otherwise, either God will not be just to himself, or He will be weak in respect to both parties, and this it is impious even to think of.”—(Lib. i. Cap. xii and xiii.) The whole question it will thus be seen, is to Anselm, a question of consequences, turning on the consideration of what is “becoming,” “due to God’s honor,” necessary to save him from a position of magisterial “weakness.”
Holding this view of the satisfaction needed, no inference follows that Christ will make the satisfaction by his own punishment or penal suffering. Nothing is wanted, according to Anselm’s statement, but some fit compensation made to God’s honor, such as would be obtained by punishment, for punishment, he argues, honors God as being an assertion, by force, of his violated lordship. “For either man renders due submission to God of his own will, by avoiding sin or making payment, or else God subjects him to himself by torments even against man’s will, and thus shows that he is Lord of man, though man refuses to acknowledge it. * * Deprived of happiness and every good, on account of his sin, he repays from his own inheritance, what he has stolen, though he repay it against his will.”—(Lib. i. Cap. xiv.) What is wanted then is the equivalent of this punishment, or what will yield an equivalent honor. But it does not follow that it must be by 19punishment—enough that it confers upon God’s public attitude, by whatever method, as great honor and authority. Indeed the language employed supposes an alternative between satisfaction and punishment, and not a satisfaction by punishment. “Does it seem to you that he wholly preserves his honor if he allows himself to be so defrauded of it as that he should neither receive satisfaction nor punishment?”—(Lib. i. Cap. xiii.)
The word “justice” [justitia] does indeed recur many times in this connection, but never as denoting retributive justice under the offended wrath-principle of God’s nature. It means simply right, or righteousness. As the argument goes, justice comes into view as recalling the principle of rectitude. It does not speak of what is due to wrong retributively considered, but of what is due to God as the being wronged, what is needed to restore his violated honor. Indeed the idea of a penal suffering in Christ, and a satisfaction made thereby to retributive justice, is expressly rejected as a thing too revolting to be thought of. “Where is the justice [righteousness] of delivering to death for a sinner, a man most just of all men? What man would not be condemned himself who should condemn the innocent to free the guilty?”—(Lib. i. Cap. viii.) It is not clear that the word justice [justitia] is used by Anselm in a single instance with a penal significance, or in the sense of retributive justice. It might seem to be so used, when it is asked—“If he allowed himself to be slain for the sake of justice, [‘propter’ justitiam] did he not give his life for the honor of God”—(Lib. ii. Cap. xviii., b.) But he means here only what he has before expressed, when saying that Christ “suffered death of his own will, on account of his obedience in maintaining [justitia] righteousness.”—(Lib. i. Cap. ix.) In the next following chapter, (Cap. x.) he does once employ 20the word poenam, when speaking of the death of Christ, but he plainly enough means by it, not punishment, but simply bad or suffering liability, and that he came into such liability there is no doubt. Besides, it may be seen how profoundly revolting this idea of punishment, laid upon the Son, is to him, when he exclaims, in this same chapter —“Strange thing is it, if God is so delighted with, or so hungers after, the blood of the innocent, that, without his death, he will not, or can not, spare the guilty!”
Retributive justice then, or penal suffering, has nothing to do with the supposed satisfaction. But the satisfaction to God’s honor turns wholly, we shall see, on the matter of Christ’s obedience—obedience unto death. The conception is that he comes into the world, not simply to be murdered, or as being commanded of the Father to die, but that, having a specially right work laid upon him by the Father, he is able rather to die for it than to renounce it; conferring thus upon the Father a superlative honor, according to the righteous tenacity of his sacrifice. The point is stated carefully by Anselm, who says (Lib. i. Cap. ix.) “we must distinguish between what he did, obedience requiring it, and what he suffered, obedience not requiring it, because he adhered to obedience”—that is to the principle of right or well-doing, which is fundamental with God in all things. Hence the great honor of such obedience. “God did not therefore compel Christ to die, but he suffered death of his own accord, not yielding up his life as an act of obedience to the Father, but on account of his obedience [to first principle,] in maintaining right [justitia;] for he held out so persistently, that he met death on account of it.”—(Lib. i. Cap. ix.) The immense value then of his death, or the satisfaction made to God’s honor, consists in the luster of his righteousness, [justitia] 21showing all created minds what homage even the uncreated Son bears to the sovereign law-principle violated by transgression.
At points farther on, this very simple and beautiful account of the supposed satisfaction appears to be a little clouded or obscured. It appears to be said that the satisfaction turns more on the death, and less on the obedience. But here it will be seen, he is only saying that simple obedience, so as to be in God’s will, is not enough; it must be such a volunteering in Christ, or obedience carried to such a point of sacrifice, that he dies, when nowise subject to death on his own account. “If we say that he will give himself to God by obedience, so as, by steadily maintaining right, [justitia] to render himself subject to His will, this will not be giving what God does not require of him, for every rational creature owes this obedience to God. Therefore it must be in some other way that he gives himself, or something from himself to God. Let us see whether it may not perchance be the laying down of his life, or the delivering up of himself to death for God’s honor. For this God will not require of him as a debt, for since he is no sinner he is not bound to die. Let us see how this accords with reason. If man sinned with sweet facility, is it not fitting that he make satisfaction with difficulty? If he is so easily vanquished by the devil, that, by sinning, he robs God of his honor, is it not right that, in satisfying God for his sin, he overcome the devil for God’s honor, with as great difficulty? Now nothing can be more difficult for man to do for God’s honor, than to suffer death voluntarily, when not bound by obligation.”—(Lib. ii. Cap. xi.) Is it then the difficulty, the expense, the death, that satisfies God’s honor? No; but it is the sublime rectitude of the Son, displayed and proved by so great pertinacity. Mere difficulties borne do not help God’s honor, but the principle of devotion for which they are borne 22does help it. Besides, Christ did not come into the world, according to Anselm in passages already cited, just to suffer and die, but only to be in the work for which, or on account of which, he should die. If then the dying itself, as many say, makes the satisfaction, it becomes a clear inference that he did not come to make the satisfaction but to do the work, and that what is taken so often to be the main point accomplished is only an accident, after all, of his mission.
Again, two chapters farther on, where it is considered how great value the satisfaction offered has, he ceases to speak of the death and begins to dwell on the person. No man, he conceives, would knowingly kill that person to preserve the whole creation of God. “He is far more a good, therefore, [since he outweighs the creation of God] than sins are evils. And do you not think that so great a good, in itself so lovely, can avail to pay for the sins of the world? Yes, it has even infinite value.”—(Lib. ii. Cap. xiv.) As if it were the person given up to God that paid for the sins. Whereas he only means, by the so great person, the death of the person, and then again, by the death of the person, that obedience which was proved by his death, and confers the tribute of honor that is needed to resanctify the violated honor of God.
The construction I have given to Anselm’s doctrine, in this general outline, I am happy to add, has the sanction of a scholar in as high authority as Neander. He says, “Anselm’s doctrine of satisfaction certainly included in it the idea of a satisfactio activa, the idea of a perfect obedience, which was required in order to satisfaction for sin. To the significance of Christ’s offering in the sight of God, necessarily belongs also the moral worth of the same. Far from Anselm, however, was the idea of passive obedience, the idea of a satisfaction by suffering, of an expiation by assuming the punishment 23of mankind; for the satisfaction which Christ afforded by what he did, was certainly, according to Anselm’s doctrine, to be the restoration of God’s honor violated by sin, and by just this satisfaction, afforded to God for mankind, was the remission of sin to be made possible.”—(History, Vol. iv. p. 500.)
It is certainly most remarkable, and most honorable to the Christian sagacity of this ancient father of the church, that he was able, as a pioneer of doctrine concerning this profoundly difficult subject, to make out an account of it which shocks no moral sentiment, and violates no principle of natural reason, as almost all the doctors and dogmatizing teachers have been doing ever since. We may think what we please of his argument, as a true and sufficient account of the subject matter, but we can not be revolted by it.
It was the principal misfortune of Anselm, that he was too much afraid of looking on the Gospel of the incarnation as having its value, or saving efficacy, under laws of expression. The fact-form pictures of the life and suffering of Christ were good enough symbols to him, doubtless, of God and his love, but the pictures wanted something more solid back of them, he conceived, to support them—“for no one paints in water or in air, because no traces of the picture remain in them. Therefore the rational existence of the truth must first be shown—I mean the necessity which proves that God ought to, or could have, condescended to those things which we affirm. Afterwards to make the body of the truth, so to speak, shine forth more clearly, these portrait figures which are pictures in a sense of truth’s body, are to be displayed.”—(Lib. i. Cap. iv.) He has no conception that expression is its own evidence. He must make a “solid foundation” by something schemed and reasoned, else there is nothing to authenticate the gospel facts, and show how it is that men’s 24hearts are at all authorized to be affected by them, as the express images and true revelations of God. He had no esthetic, or esthetically perceptive culture. Truth did not lie in what he might perceive, but in what he might conclude by some process of deduction. Cribbed in thus, and cramped by the inexorable bars of his over-logical training, he could not think of a gospel operating simply by the expression of God, and being only what is expressed by the shining tokens of love and sacrifice; it must be something more scientific, something to be stiffly reasoned under the categories and by the closely defined methods. The result was that his truly great soul was rather narrowed than widened into his subject, and his subject narrowed, in turn, to the closely-stinted measures of his method.
For this indeed is the inevitable fruit and doom of all attempts to logically reduce and dogmatize spiritual subjects—the method itself is only a way of finding how great truths may be made small enough to be easily handled. The definitions operate astringently, taking some one incident or quality, for many and various, and so getting the matters defined into such thimbles of meaning as can be confidently managed. Accordingly it will be always seen, that one who leads in a dogmatic, or closely defined exposition of some doctrine, is gathering his mind, as it were, into a precinct within itself, and that, while he is putting every thing, as he conceives, into the solid, scientific form, he is all the while giving indications, in the manner and matter of his argument, of an immense outside wealth of sentiment and perception, nowise reducible under the scheme of his dogma.
Thus, whoever reads the arguments of Athanasius for his doctrine of Trinity, will see that his mind is touching something, every moment, outside of his doctrine; some figure, 25image, symbol, analogy, comparison, which is, after all, to him, the truth of his truth, and wider, and richer, and more vital than his defined statement. And so it is with Anselm in the present instance. He speaks, for example, at the opening of his subject, (Lib. i. Cap i. and ii.) as if it were the great matter of the Gospel that Christ has “restored life to the world;” “assumed the littleness and weakness of human nature for the sake of its renewal.” And, beyond a question, this restoring, this renewal of life, was to him the main purpose and point of the Gospel. But he makes out still a theory, or dogmatized scheme of the incarnate life and passion, that carries nothing to that point. Every thing might be done that he describes for the restoration of God’s honor, and the matter of “restored life” or the “renewal of human nature,” be still untouched; nay, for aught that appears, it might be quite impossible. Indeed it may even yet be a question, whether Christ is to be any actual deliverer and regenerator at all.
But the most remarkable instance of all, to illustrate the detaining and restrictive power of a dogmatizing effort, will be found in the fact that Anselm, so many times over in the course of his argument, strikes the really grand, all-containing matter of the gospel and falls directly back as often, into his theory; only half perceiving, apparently, the immense significance of what he had touched. Thus he brings out his argument upon the very chilling and meager conclusion, that inasmuch as Christ has paid to God, in his death, what was not due on his own account, God must needs give him a reward for the overplus; and then, as he can not do any thing with his reward personally, by reason of his infinite sufficiency, he may very naturally ask the reward to be put upon somebody else, and why not upon the sinners of mankind. “Upon 26whom would be more properly bestowed the reward accruing from his death, than upon those for whose salvation, as right reason teaches, he became man, and for whose sake, as we have already said, he left an example of suffering death, to preserve holiness. For surely in vain will men imitate him, if they be not also partakers of his reward. Or whom could he more justly make heirs of the inheritance which he does not need, and of the superfluity of his possessions, than his parents and brethren?”—(Lib. ii. Cap. xix.)
What a conception of the self-sacrificing love of Christ that, after all, he quite “properly” passes over to sinners “the superfluity” of his rewards! And yet the worthy father was looking at the time distinctly on the way Christ will get hold of transgressors to regenerate their nature, after he has evened their account with God. This mighty something, this all-quickening life, which an apostle calls “the power of God unto salvation,” and evidently thinks to be the very matter of the Gospel—he is feeling after it, we can plainly enough see, but his dogmatizing effort holds him in so stringently that, instead of launching out into the grand, all-significant, moral view of Christ, as being come into the world to be the power of God on souls, and so the Quickener of their life, puts forward only these two very thin, but painfully suggestive words, “example” and “imitation,” and is by these exhausted!
Again, twice before, he had been coasting round this point, as if some loadstone drew his vessel thither. Thus, when showing how Christ paid God’s violated “honor,” by his death, because he died as being under no debt of obligation on his own account, he goes on to add, what has no connection whatever with his point—“Do you not perceive that, when he bore, with gentle patience, the insults put upon him, violence and even crucifixion among thieves, that he might 27maintain strict holiness, by this he set men an example, that they should never turn aside from the holiness due to God, on account of personal sacrifice? But how could he have done this, had he, as he might have done, avoided the death Drought upon him for such a reason?”—(Lib. ii. Cap. xxiii.)
In the other instance referred to, he seems just upon the verge of breaking out through the shell of his dogma and his speculated reasons, into the broad open field of what is called “the moral view” of the subject, to see in Christ what is more than “example,” the transforming efficacy of God. Thus he testifies again—“There are also many other reasons why it is peculiarly fitting for that man [Christ] to enter into the common intercourse of men, and maintain a likeness to them, only without sin. And these things are more easily and clearly manifest in his life and actions than they can possibly be, by mere reason without experience. For who can say how necessary and wise a thing it was for him who was to redeem mankind, and lead them back by his teaching from the way of death and destruction into the path of life and eternal happiness, when he conversed with men, and when he taught them by personal intercourse, to set them an example himself of the way in which they ought to live? But how could he have given this example to weak and dying men, that they should not deviate from holiness because of injuries, or scorn, or tortures, or even death, had they not been able to recognize all these virtues in himself.”—(Lib. ii. Cap. xi.)
It is difficult not to be greatly affected by this almost discovery of Anselm; for his mind, as we can plainly see, labors here with a suspicion that there is a practical something “in the life and actions” of Christ that is not comprehensible by “reason,” or by the logical methods of theory apart from experience; and “who,” he asks, “can say how necessary” this 28divine something is in restoring men to God? How very near to another, less speculative, and more complete solution of the Cur Deus Homo, did this great father of the church here come! The gate stood ajar and he looked in through the opening, but could not enter.
It should justly be said for him, however, that there is nothing very peculiar in the detention he suffers at this point. In one way, or another, the gospel teachers appear to have been trying every where and in all the past ages, if not consciously, yet unconsciously, to get beyond their own doctrine, and bring out some practically moral-power view of the cross, more fruitful and sanctifying, than by their own particular doctrine, it possibly can be. Occasionally the attempt has purposely and consciously been to adjust something, or make out some formal account of Christ, that would turn the whole significance of his incarnate mission upon the power to be exerted in character; showing directly how, or by what means, it was to be and is that power. The very coarse, and, to us, wild looking doctrine that Anselm exploded, and that held the church for so many ages before his time, representing Christ as dying in a conflict for us with the devil, or as a ransom paid to the devil, was probably nothing but a running down into literality and effoeteness of meaning, of those flaming conceptions, under which Christ’s power over evil in our fallen nature, was originally asserted. Faith began to glory in the casting down of the devil by the cross. This was gradually converted by repetition into a doctrine of the understanding. Then, by the unthinkingness of that and reiterations continued, the dogmatic crudity was consummated and Christ became a ransom paid to the devil. After Anselm also comes a long roll of teachers, reaching down to our own time, who have it as their endeavor, more or less distinctly, to 29unfold some conception of the cross, that will make it a salvation by its power on life and character. In this line we have Abelard, Hugo of St. Victor, Robert Pulleyn, Peter Lombard, Wycliffe, and Wessel, and Tauler; and, closer to our own time, John Locke, and Dr. I. Taylor, Kant, De Wette, Schleiermacher, and others, too numerous to mention—all strangely unlike in their conceptions, and as unequal as possible in their title to success.
But the most impressive thing of all, in the history of this subject, is the fact to which I just now alluded; viz., the manifest difficulty experienced by the adherents of judicial satisfaction under any form, whether of Anselm, or of the Protestant confessions, or even of the Romish, in keeping themselves practically in, or under, their doctrine. Maintaining it most stringently, or even with a bigot zeal, they still can not practically stay in it, but they turn away, as often as they can, to preach, or fondle themselves in, the dear luxury of texts outside of their confession; such as “The love of Christ constraineth us,” “God commendeth his love,” “The serpent lifted up,” “Beholding as in a glass,” “Christ liveth in me,” and a hundred others; traveling over, in this manner, as it were, another and really better gospel than that of their confession; quite unconscious of the immense wealth they are finding that is wholly ignored by it. Even when they preach, in ruggedest argument, their doctrine of penal sacrifice and satisfaction, asserting the wrath that burns inextinguishably till it finds a victim, they will not be satisfied till they have gotten some kind of soul-power either out of their doctrine, or most likely from beyond it. Tacitly they do all hold to the fact that Christ is here to be, and ought to be, and can be duly honored only when he is made to be, a softening, illuminating, convincing, or somehow transforming and sanctifying power. 30After all, the great toil of their ministry is so to conceive Christ as to speak worthily of him in the matter of his life, and get the blessing out of him for lost men that is so richly garnered in him. The confession is universally, that whatever preacher fails in this, fails utterly.
But why is this? If Christ has simply died to even up a score of penalty, if the total import of his cross is that God’s wrath is satisfied, and the books made square, there is certainly no beauty in that to charm a new feeling into life; on the contrary there is much to revolt the soul, at least in God’s attitude and even to raise a chill of revulsion. It will not pacify the conscience of transgression; first, because there is no justice in such kind of suffering; and next, because, if there were, such a death of such a being would only harrow the guilty soul with a sense of condemnation more awful. It might be imagined that such a transaction would make a strong appeal of gratitude, and exert great power in that manner over character, and yet gratitude is precisely that, which souls under sin are least capable of, and especially when the claim is grounded in reasons so spiritual and so galling, every way, in the form. No, the power which is so continually sought after in the unfolding and preaching of the cross—that which, to every really Christian preacher, is the principal thing—is not in, or of, any consideration of a penal sacrifice, but is wholly extraneous; a Christ outside of the doctrine, dwelling altogether in the sublime facts of his person, his miracles and his passion.
And here precisely is the reason why there is so little content in the dogmatic solutions of penal atonement; why also the attempts to present the gospel on its moral side, by a partially defined statement, or theory, seem to fall short and yield in general so little satisfaction. It is just because the whole 31Christ, taken as he is, makes up the gospel, fills out the power, and that no summary more comprehensive can do more than hint the purpose and manner of it. There is no example of mortal conceit more astounding, if we could only see the matter with a proper intelligence, than the assumption that the import of Christ’s mission can be fairly and sufficiently stated in a dogma of three lines. The real gospel is the Incarnate Biography itself, making its impression and working its effect as a biography—a total life with all its acts, and facts, and words, and feelings, and principles of good, grouped in the light and shade of their own supernatural unfolding. The art of God could reach its mark of benefit, only by so vast a combination of matters so transcendent for dignity and expression. Whereupon the scientific wordsman, coming after, undertakes to adequately tell what the grand biography is, or amounts to, in three or four lines of dry abstractive statement! Or we may compare the gospel as a power to the impressive grouping, action, suffering and sentiment of a picture; for, taken as a medium of divine expression, it comes under the same general law; what figure then would any critic expect to make who should undertake to give the picture by a scientific formula? Or, again, we may conceive the gospel to be a grand supernatural tragedy in the world, designed to work on human hearts by all the matter of loving, doing, suffering, all the scenes of craft, and stratagem, and hate, all the touching, and tender, and heart-breaking, and divinely great expression crowded into the four-years plot of it. Will then some one undertake to give us Othello by dogmatic article? or, if not, will it be more easy to give us the tragedy of Jesus?
It will be understood, of course, that I do not propose to establish any article whatever in this treatise, but only to exhibit, 32if possible, the Christ whom so many centuries of discipleship have so visibly been longing and groping after; viz., the loving, helping, transforming, sanctifying Christ, the true soul-bread from heaven, the quickening Life, the Power of God unto Salvation. If for convenience sake I speak of maintaining “the moral view” of the cross, or, what is more distinct, “the moral-power view,” it will not be understood that I am proposing an article, but only that I hint, in this general way, a conception of the gospel whose reality and staple value are in the facts that embody its power. Perhaps it will sometime be judged that I have labored the vast, uncomprehended complexity, and incomprehensible mystery of the matter, as carefully, and conscientiously, and perhaps also with as true justice, as if I had assumed the power to scheme it in a proposition.
I have called the treatise by a name or title that more nearly describes it than any other. It conceives the work of Christ as beginning at the point of sacrifice, “Vicarious Sacrifice;” ending at the same, and being just this all through—so a power of salvation for the world. And yet it endeavors to bring this sacrifice only so much closer to our feeling and perception, in the fact that it makes the sacrifice and cross of Christ his simple duty, and not any superlative, optional kind of good, outside of all the common principles of virtue. “Grounded,” I have said, “in principles of duty and right that are universal.” It is not goodness over good, and yielding a surplus of merit in that manner for us, but it is only just as good as it ought to be, or the highest law of right required it to be; a model, in that view for us, and a power, if we can suffer it, of ingenerated life in us. I probably do not use the term “vicarious sacrifice” in the commonly accepted meaning of the church confessions, and if any one should blame the 33assumption of the title, I may well enough agree with him, only holding him responsible for some other and better name that more closely accords with the Scripture uses, or more exactly represents the distinctive matter of the treatise.
I ought perhaps to say that the view here presented, was sketched, and, for the most part publicly taught, more than ten years ago. It will probably be remembered, by some, that sentiments which I published about fourteen years ago on this subject, raised a good deal of agitation, and a considerable impeachment of heresy. Whether what I now publish agrees, in every particular, with what I published then, I have not inquired and do not care to know. I can only say that I am not aware of any disagreement, and have never been led to regret any thing in the view then presented, except a certain immaturity and partiality of conception, which it can not be amiss to supplement by a doctrine that more sufficiently covers the whole ground of the subject.3435
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