« Prev 2. Doctrine of some of the Fathers. Next »

§ 2. Doctrine of some of the Fathers.

The second theory is that which prevailed extensively among the fathers. It was intended only as a solution of the question how Christ delivers us from the power of Satan. It contemplated neither the removal of guilt nor the restoration of divine life; but simply our deliverance from the power of Satan. It was founded on those passages of Scriptures which represent man since the fall as in bondage to the prince of darkness. The object of redemption was to deliver mankind from this bondage. This could only be done by in some way overcoming Satan and destroying his right or power to hold men as his slaves. This Christ has effected, and thus becomes the Redeemer of men. This general theory is presented in three different forms. The first appeals to the old principle of the rights of war, according to which the conquered became the slaves of the conqueror. Satan conquered Adam, and thus became the rightful owner of him and his posterity. Hence he is called the god and prince of this world. To deliver men from this dreaded bondage, Christ offered Himself as a ransom to Satan. Satan accepted the offer, and renounced his right to retain mankind as his slaves. Christ, however, broke the bonds of Satan, whose power was founded upon the sinfulness of his subjects. Christ being divine, and without sin, could not be held subject to his power. In answer to the question, How Satan could accept Christ as the ransom for men, if he knew Him to be a divine person? it was said that he did not know Him to be divine, because his divinity was veiled by his humanity. And then in answer to the question, How he could accept of Him as a ransom, if he regarded Him as merely a man? it is said that he saw that Christ was unspeakably superior to other men, and perhaps one of the higher order of angels, whom he might hope securely to retain. The second form of this theory does not regard Christ as a ransom 565paid to Satan, but as a conqueror. As Satan conquered mankind and made them his slaves; so Christ became a man, and, in our nature, conquered Satan; and thus acquired the right to deliver as from our bondage and to consign Satan himself to chains and darkness.

The third form of the theory is, that as the right and power of Satan over man is founded on sin, he exceeded his authority when he brought about the death of Christ, who was free from all sin; and thus justly forfeited his authority over men altogether. This general theory that Christ’s great work, as a Redeemer, was to deliver man from bondage to Satan, and that the ransom was paid to Him and not to God; or that the difficulty in the way of our salvation was the right which Satan had acquired to us as slaves, which right Christ in some way cancelled, was very prevalent for a long time in the Church. It is found in Irenæus, Origen, Theodoret, Basil, Cyril of Jerusalem, Augustine, Jerome, Hilary, Leo the Great, and others.441441The proof passages are given more or less at length in all the modern histories of doctrine, as in Hagenbach’s Dogmengeschichte, translated by Dr. B. H. Smith; Münscher’s and Neander’s Dogmengeschichte, and especially in the elaborate work of Baur of Tübingen, Die Lehre von der Versöhnung. The Scriptural foundation for this view of the work of Christ is very slight. It is true that men are the captives of Satan, and under his dominion. It is true that Christ gave Himself as a ransom; and that by the payment of that ransom wc are freed from bondage to the prince of darkness. But it does not follow that the ransom was paid to Satan, or that he had any just claim to his authority over the children of men. What the Scriptures teach on this subject is, —

1. That man by sin became subject to the penalty of the divine law.

2. That Satan has the office of inflicting that penalty in so far as he is allowed to torment and degrade the children of men.

3. That Christ by his death having satisfied the penalty of the law, of course has delivered us from the power of Satan. See especially Hebrews ii. 14. But this gives no ground for the doctrine that Satan had any claim in justice to hold mankind as his slaves; or that Christ offered Himself as a ransom to the prince of this world. This doctrine was strenuously opposed in the early Church by Gregory of Nyssa, and has long since passed into oblivion. The only interest which it now has is as a matter of history. It is of course not to be supposed that the great lights of the Church above mentioned believed that the whole work of Christ as the Saviour of men consisted in his delivering us from the power of 566Satan; that they ignored his office as a high priest unto God, or denied the effect of his death as an expiation for sin, or forgot that He is to us the source of spiritual life. These doctrines are as clearly asserted by them from time to time as are their peculiar views as to our deliverance from the bondage of Satan. Even Origen, so unrestrained in his thinking, and so disposed to explain Christian truths philosophically, teaches the catholic doctrine with perfect distinctness. In his comment on Romans iii. 25, 26, he says,442442Works, edit. Benedictines, Paris, 1759, vol. iv. p. 513, B, a, b, c.Cum dixisset, quod pro omni genere humano redemptionem semetipsum dedisset, . . . . nunc addit aliquid sublimius et dicit, quia ‘proposuit eum Deus propitiationem per fidem in sanguine ipsius:’ quo scilicet per hostiam sui corporis propitium hominibus faceret Deum, et per hoc ostenderet justitiam suam. . . . . Deus enim justus est, et justus justificare non poterat injustos, ideo interventum voluit esse propitiatoris, ut per ejus fidem justificarentur qui per opera propria justificari non poterant.” No one of the Reformers gives a clearer utterance to the truth than is contained in these words. So also he says,443443In Leviticum Homilia, I. 3. Works, edit. Paris, 1733, vol. ii. p. 186, d.Posuit ergo et manum suam super caput vituli: hoc est peccata generis humani imposuit super caput suum. Ipse est enim caput corporis ecclesiæ suæ.” In all ages of the Church, by the early fathers as well as in subsequent periods, the language of the New Testament in reference to Christ and his work is retained. He is familiarly called priest, and high priest, and held up as a sacrifice for sin, as a redeemer, as a ransom, and as one who cancelled our debts. As the early fathers were conversant with sacrifices, and knew the light in which they were regarded by the ancient world, that both heathen and Jewish sacrifices were expiatory, there is little doubt that the fathers, in calling Christ a sacrifice, meant to recognize Him as an expiation for our sins, although it is admitted that great vagueness, variety, and inconsistency prevail in their utterances on this subject. The whole activity of the cultivated minds was in the early ages directed first to the doctrines of the Trinity and of the person of Christ, and subsequently to those concerning sin and grace.

« Prev 2. Doctrine of some of the Fathers. Next »


| Define | Popups: Login | Register | Prev Next | Help |