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“In whom we have our Redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace.”—Paul.
“The faith of the Atonement presupposes the faith of the Incarnation. It may be also said historically that the faith of the Incarnation has usually had conjoined with it the faith of the Atonement. The great question which has divided men as to these fundamental doctrines of the faith has been the relation in which they stand to. each other—which was to he regarded as primary, which secondary? Was an Atonement the great necessity in reference to man’s salvation, out of which the necessity for an Incarnation arose, because a Divine Saviour alone could make an adequate Atonement for sin?—or, is the Incarnation to be regarded as the primary and highest fact in the history of God’s relation to man, in the light of which God’s interest in man and purpose for man can alone he truly seen?—and is the Atonement to be contemplated as taking place in order to the fulfilment of the Divine purpose for man which the Incarnation reveals?”—J. M’Leod Campbell.
And Comte absurd, and Cabet puerile,
Subsist no rules of life outside of life,
No perfect manners without Christian souls;
The Christ Himself had been no Lawgiver
Unless He had given the Life, too, with the Law.”
THE INCARNATION AND REDEMPTION FROM SIN.
Whatever we may think of the Incarnation in its wider relations to the plan of the world and the ends of creation as a whole, it remains the fact that in Scripture it is always brought into immediate connection with sin, and with the purpose of God in Redemption. “He was manifested to take away sins,” says John, “and in Him was no sin”;6926921 John iii. 5 (R.V.). and so say all the writers in the New Testament. Christianity is thus distinctively a religion of Redemption,—a great Divine economy fore the recovery of men from the guilt and power of sin—from a state of estrangement and hostility to God—to a state of holiness and blessedness in the favour of God, and of fitness for the attainment of their true destination. It is in this light we are to consider it in the present Lecture.
We may, therefore, set aside at once as alien to the true Christian view, or at least as inadequate and defective, all such representations of Christianity as see in its Founder only a great religious teacher and preacher of righteousness; or a great religious and social reformer, such as has often appeared in the history of the world; or a great philanthropist, caring for the bodies and souls of men; or one whose main business it was to inoculate men with a new “enthusiasm for humanity”;693693Ecce Homo, chap. 17. or a teacher with a new ethical secret to impart to mankind; or even such representations as see m Him only a new spiritual Head of humanity, whose work it is to complete the old creation, and lift the race to a higher platform of spiritual attainment, or help it a stage further onwards to the goal of its perfection. Christ is all this, but He is infinitely more. God’s end in His creation indeed stands, as also His purpose to realise it; but, under the) 288conditions in which humanity exists, that end can only be realised through a Redemption, and it is this Redemption which Christ pre-eminently came into the world to affect.
A comparison has sometimes been instituted in this respect between Christianity and Buddhism, which also is in some sort a religion of Redemption. But the comparison only brings out the more conspicuously the unique and original character of the Christian system. For whereas Buddhism starts from the conception of the inherent evil and misery of existence, and Redemption which it promises as the result of indefinitely prolonged striving through many successive lives is the eternal rest and peace of non-being; the Christian view, on the other hand, starts from the conception that everything in its original nature and in the intent of its Creator is good, and that the evil of the world is the result of wrong and perverted development,—holds, therefore, that Redemption from it is possible by the use of appropriate means. And Redemption here includes, not merely deliverance from existing evils, but restoration of the Divine likeness which has been lost by man, and the ultimate blessedness of the life everlasting.694694“In Buddhism Redemption comes from below; in Christianity it is from above: in Buddhism it comes from man; in Christianity it comes from God.”—Carpenter, Permanent Elements of Religion, Introduction, p. 34.
The chief point on which the discussion in this subject turns is the connection of Redemption with the Person and work of Christ. Here at the outset it is necessary to guard against too narrow an idea of Redemption, as if the saving work of Christ were limited to that doing and suffering which we call the Atonement. The ends of Christ’s coming into the world include much more than the making atonement for sin. This is recognised when the Church names three offices which Christ executes as our Redeemer—a prophetic and a kingly as well as a priestly office. Yet it is principally on the question of Atonement, or the manner of the connection of Redemption with the doing and suffering of Christ, that discussion has been directed, and it is to this subject I shall specially address myself.695695To prevent ambiguity, it is desirable that I should refer here for a moment to the meaning of this word “atonement.” It is the equivalent of the New Testament word καταλλαγή, which is always translated in the Revised Version “reconciliation,” and of the German words “Versöhnung” and “Sühnung.” It is therefore capable of a wider and of a more special sense. In both cases it refers to the “reconciliation” or “making-at-one” of mankind and God, and in New Testament usage implies that this reconciliation is effected through expiation or propitiation. But in the one case it denotes the actual state of reconciliation with God into which believers are introduced through Christ, whose work is then regarded as the means to this end; whereas in the other it denotes the reconciling act itself—mankind being viewed as objectively reconciled to God in the work or death of His Son, which is the same the term ordinarily bears when we speak of the Atonement. Dr. Hodge would discard this term altogether because of its ambiguity, and substitute for the latter meaning of it the term “satisfaction.”—Systematic Theology, ii. p. 469. lint “satisfaction” is too narrow and exclusively forensic a term to express all that is implied in the reconciling act.289
I. It needs no proof that all the New Testament writers who refer to the subject regard the forgiveness of sins and the salvation of men as connected in quite a peculiar way with the death of Christ; and it is not less evident that they do this because they ascribe to Christ’s death a sacrificial and expiatory value. They do this further, as every one must feel, not in a mere poetic and figurative way, but with the most intense conviction that they have really been redeemed and reconciled to God by the death of Christ upon the cross. The how of this redemptive transaction most of them may not enter into, but Paul, at least, has a theology on this subject, with the main outlines of which the others, judging from the expressions they use, and the propitiatory virtue they ascribe to the shedding of Christ’s blood, must be held to agree.696696The passages may be seen classified in Dale on The Atonement, or in Professor Crawford’s Doctrine of Holy Scripture respecting the Atonement. Happily we are freed from the necessity of dwelling long on the apostolic testimony on this subject, for the same reason which I gave when speaking of the Person of Christ—namely, that impartial exegesis and Biblical theology practically grant to us all that we assert. Apart from such occasional speculations as, e.g., Holsten’s, that, in Paul’s view, sin is identical with the body or “flesh” of Christ, and that the slaying of Christ’s body or flesh denotes the slaying of sin,697697Cf. Weiss, Biblical Theology of the New Testament, i. p. 422 (Eng. trans.). it will be found that the descriptions given of the teaching of the Epistles as to the work of Redemption do not differ much from those met with in our ordinary books of theology. The accounts given us, e.g., by Baur or Reuss or Pfleiderer, or even by Martineau698698Cf. Seat of Authority, pp. 478, 479. Baur’s views may be seen in his Paulus, pp. 537–547; those of Reuss in his Hist. of Christ. Theol. in the Apost. Age, ii. pp. 68–74 (Eng. trans.); those of Lipsius in his Dogmatik, p. 498; those of Pfleiderer in his Urchristenthum, pp. 222–242.—not to speak of an exegete like Meyer, 290or a Biblical theologian like Weiss—of the doctrine of Paul on Redemption, is what, with very slight exception, any of us could accept. The same is true of the other New Testament witnesses—of the Epistle to the Hebrews, of Peter, of Revelation, of the Epistles of John. With differences of standpoint and strong individual characteristics, it is acknowledged that they teach a fundamentally identical doctrine of Redemption from the guilt and power of sin through Christ, and particularly that they ascribe to His death a sacrificial or propitiatory virtue. To get rid of the attribution of this view to the author of the Fourth Gospel, Dr. Martineau has to assume, in face of all probability and evidence, that the First Epistle of John is not by the same author as the Gospel.699699Seat of Authority, p. 509.
More important is the question which the newer forms of controversy press upon us—Whether Christ’s doctrine on this subject is the same as that of His apostles? We have a theology of propitiation in the Epistles—that is admitted; but have we anything of the same kind in Christ’s own words? Was not the gospel preached in Galilee a much simpler thing than the theological gospel preached by Paul, or contained in the Epistle to the Hebrews, and is it not free from every trace of this cumbrous machinery of Atonement, or of pardon on the ground of the suffering and death of another? Where, it is asked, is there any vestige of this doctrine in the Sermon on the Mount, or in the parable of the Prodigal Son? Is this doctrine not an aftergrowth, the result of the running of the Divine thoughts of the Master, and of the impression produced by His life and death, into the moulds of Jewish sacrificial conceptions which had no real affinity with them, and have indeed served to overlay and obscure them to the apprehension of all subsequent generations?
If the case were as this objection represents it, I grant that it would have very serious consequences for our faith. If the apostles of Christ—the very persons chosen by Him to communicate His doctrine to the world, and to whom He promised the illumination, of His Spirit for this very end—could so seriously misunderstand and pervert His doctrine on this essential point, I do not know what credit we should be able 291to attach to them on any point on which they profess to represent the mind of Christ. Dr. Dale has argued this point so strongly in his book on the Atonement,700700Lecture IV. that I do not need to do more than refer to it. It is not for us, it is for the objector to explain how the guides and leaders of the apostolic Church should come with this singular unanimity to shift the centre of gravity in Christ’s gospel from where He Himself had placed it, and so to mislead the world as to the essentials of their Master’s teaching. But the question remains—Have they done so? And this is certainly not proved from the circumstance that, in Christ’s own teaching, the doctrine of Atonement is not brought forward with the same explicitness as it is in the apostolic writings. That Christ took up a central position in relation to the truths which He proclaimed, that he invited men to faith in Himself as the condition of their participation in the blessings of the kingdom, that He promised the fullest satisfaction in the approaching kingdom to the hunger and thirst of the spiritually needy, that He declared that it was by their relation to Him that men would be ultimately judged,—this lies upon the surface of the Gospels. But that He should have preached to the Galilean multitudes truths which, on any hypothesis, could only be intelligible after His death and resurrection had taken place,—that He should have done this before He had even publicly proclaimed Himself to be the Messiah,—this is to ask what in reason we are not entitled to expect. Before there could be any preaching of an Atonement, there must be an Atonement to preach. I grant, however, that if the apostolic gospel really represents the truth about Christ’s work, the facts of His early manifestation ought to bear this out. They must be such, at least, that the apostolic gospel is felt to be the natural key to them. In reality they are much more; for, taken in their entirety, they point unmistakably to just such a view as the apostolic doctrine gives, and explain to us, what else would be a complete enigma, how such a doctrine could arise.
It is significant that the most unbiased modern inquiry into Christ’s teaching recognises that He attributed a redemptive virtue to His death, and connected it directly with the 292 forgiveness of sins.701701Cf. Baldensperger’s Selbstbewusstsein Jesu, 2nd ed. pp. 153–155; Wendt’s Lehre Jesu, ii. pp. 526–530; Schmoller’s Die Lehre vom Reiche Gottes, pp. 144, 145, etc. Ritschl also acknowledges that Christ first, and after Him the oldest witnesses, connect Redemption or forgiveness, not with His prophetic office, but much more with the fact of His death.702702Unterricht, p. 36. Taking the testimony of the Gospels as a whole, I think it is exceedingly strong. It is remarkable that in the Gospel of John, the most spiritual of the four, we have both the earliest and the clearest statements of the fact that Christ’s death stood in direct relation to the salvation of the world. I refer to such passages as the Baptist’s utterance, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world”;703703John i. 29. Marg. in R.V., “heareth the sin.” Cf. Dorner, System of Doctrine, iii. p. 415. Christ’s words to Nicodemus, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up,”704704John iii. 15. etc.; and the sayings in chap. vi. about giving His flesh for the life of the world.705705Vers. 51-56. In the Synoptic Gospels, while in one saying at least of the earlier ministry there is a premonition of the cross,706706Matt. ix. 15. it was not till after Peter’s great confession that Jesus began to speak explicitly to the disciples of His approaching sufferings and death.707707Mark viii. 31, ix. 12, 31, x. 33, 34. Then we have many utterances declaring the necessity of His death, and such a saying throwing light upon its character as, “For verily the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many.”708708Mark x. 45 (R.V.). On the Mount of Transfiguration it was the decease which He should accomplish at Jerusalem which was the subject of discourse.709709Luke ix. 31. But the clearest expression of all prior to His death is His solemn utterance at the institution of the Supper, when, taking the sacramental bread and wine, He said, “This is My body; this is My blood of the Covenant, which is shed for many, unto remission of sins.”710710Matt. xxvi. 26, 28 (R.V.). To this must be added the instruction which the disciples are recorded to have received after the resurrection. On one remarkable occasion we read that Christ said to them “O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe in all that the 293prophets have spoken! Behoved it not the Christ to suffer these things, and to enter into His glory? And beginning from Moses and from all the prophets, He interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning Himself.”711711Luke xxiv. 25-27 (R.V.). And at a later meeting with the eleven, “These are My words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, how that all things must needs be fulfilled, which are written in the law of Moses, and the prophets, and the psalms concerning Me. Then opened He their mind, that they might understand the scriptures; and He said unto them, Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer, and rise again from the dead on the third day; and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name unto all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”712712Luke xxiv. 44-47. These passages are invaluable as giving us a clue to the clearness and decision of the subsequent apostolic doctrine. What these lengthened interpretations of Jesus included we cannot of course tell, but they must have embraced much light on the significance of His death; and for the nature of that light we are entitled to look to the Spirit-guided utterances of the apostles who received it.
The apostolic Church, therefore, was not left without guidance in its construction of the doctrine of Redemption, any more than in its construction of the doctrine of Christ’s Person. It had various groups of facts to lead it to a conclusion.
1. It had the objective facts themselves of Christ’s death, resurrection, and subsequent exaltation to heaven. Holding fast as it did to the Messiahship and Divine Sonship of Jesus, it could not but find the death of Christ a dark and perplexing problem, till it grasped the solution in the thought of a Divine necessity for that death for the accomplishment of the Messianic salvation. With this had to be taken the fact of Christ’s own command, that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations. Behind this again were all the facts of. His earthly life, with its revelations of Messianic power and grace, and its not less wonderful self-abasement and sorrow.
2. There were the sayings of Christ, above referred to, which threw light upon the meaning and necessity of His sufferings and death. These, in the new illumination of 294the Spirit, would be earnestly pondered, and are sufficient to explain all the forms in which Christ’s death came to be regarded by them.
3. There was an earlier Revelation with which the new economy stood in the closest relations, and to which Christ Himself had directed His disciples for instruction regarding Himself. In many ways also this old covenant aided them to a fuller comprehension of the meaning of the sufferings and death of Christ.
(1) There were the prophecies of the Old Testament,—foremost among them that wonderful prophecy of the Servant of Jehovah in Isaiah liii., to whose undeserved sufferings, lovingly and submissively borne, an expiatory virtue is expressly ascribed. “There is no exegete,” says Professor G. A. Smith, “but agrees to this: . . . all agree to the fact that by Himself, or by God, the Servant’s life is offered an expiation for sin—a satisfaction to the law of God.”713713The Book of Isaiah, ii. p. 364.
(2) There was the work of the law in men’s hearts, begetting in them the sense of sin, and, in virtue of its propaedeutic character, creating the deep feeling of the need of Redemption. It is with this consciousness of the want of righteousness wrought by the law, and the consequent feeling of the need of Redemption, that Paul’s doctrine specially connects itself.
(3) There was the sacrificial system of the Old Testament. This was the remaining key in the hands of the early Church to unlock the significance of Christ’s death. If the law created the sense of sin, it was the sacrificial system which created the idea of Atonement. This, in turn, is the thought to which the Epistle to the Hebrews specially attaches itself. When, therefore, exception is taken to the apostles casting their ideas into the moulds of Jewish sacrificial conceptions, we have rather to ask whether the economy of sacrifice was not Divinely prepared for this very end, that it might foreshadow the one and true Sacrifice by which the sin of the world is taken away, and whether this is not in accordance with all the data at our disposal.
II. Assuming, however, that all this is granted,—that it is conceded that the apostles teach Redemption through the death 295of Christ, and that there is no, discrepancy in this respect between their teaching and that of Christ Himself,—we are still far from a solution of the many questions which may be raised in regard to this great cardinal doctrine. Indeed, our real task is only commencing. Those who think that, on the basis of Scripture passages, a ready-made theory of Atonement lies to our hand, have only to consider the show and gradual process by which the doctrine of the Church has been built up to its present form, to become convinced of the contrary. Christ’s death is a sacrifice, but in what sense is it a sacrifice? It is a propitiation for our sins; but what are the elements in it which give it value as a propitiation? It is connected with the remission of sins; but what is the nature of this connection? These are questions as keenly discussed to-day as ever, and we cannot avoid considering them in connection with the deep and difficult problems which they raise.
Now I for one do not think it is the duty of the Church to rest content—as some express it—with the fact of the Atonement, without further inquiring as deeply as we can into its nature. I cannot believe that any doctrine of Scripture—least of all the doctrine of Atonement, which is represented in Scripture as the Revelation of the innermost heart of God to man, the central and supreme manifestation of His love to the world—was ever meant to lie like a dead-weight on our understanding, incapable of being in any degree assimilated by our thought. Certain it is that any doctrine which is treated in this way will not long retain its hold on men’s convictions, but will sooner or later be swept out of the way as a piece of useless theological lumber. The Atonement, as Dr. John M’Leod Campbell was fond of putting it, must be capable of being seen in its own light. I grant, indeed, that the fact of the Atonement is greater than all our apprehensions of it. We are here in the very Holy of holies of the Christian faith, and our treatment of the subject cannot be too reverential. The one thing a priori certain about the Atonement is, that it has heights and depths, lengths and breadths, greater than any line of ours can fathom or span. It is this which should make us patient of what are called theories of the Atonement. I do not know any one of these theories of which it can justly be said that it is unmixed error,—which has not rather in the heart of it a portion of the 296truth,—which does not apprehend some side or aspect of the Atonement which other theories neglect, or have thrust into the background. Instead, therefore, of being too keen to scent error in these theories, our wiser plan will be to be ever on the outlook for an enlargement of our knowledge of the truth through them.
If I might indicate in a word what I take to be the tendency of the modern treatment of the Atonement, I would say that it consists in the endeavour to give a spiritual interpretation to the great fact which lies at the heart of our Redemption; not necessarily to deny its judicial aspect,—for that, I take it, will be found impossible,—but to remove from it the hard, legal aspect it is apt to assume when treated as a purely external fact, without regard to its inner spiritual content; and, further, to bring it into harmony with the spiritual laws and analogies which obtain in other spheres. There is the attempt (1) to find spiritual laws which will make the Atonement itself intelligible; and (2) to find spiritual laws which connect the Atonement with the new life which springs from it. I may add that this is a department of the truth in which I think that the theology of our own country has rendered better service to the Christian view than the theology of the Continent.
In accordance with my plan, I am led to study this subject of Atonement through Christ especially from the point of view of the Incarnation. There is an advantage in this method, for as, on the one hand, we see how the Atonement rises naturally out of the Incarnation, so that the Son of God could not appear in our nature without undertaking such a work as this term denotes; so, on the other, we see that the Incarnation is itself a pledge and anticipation of reconciliation. It is evident that such an event could never have taken place had there been no purpose or possibility of salvation; had humanity been a hopelessly ruined and rejected race. In principle, therefore, the Incarnation is the declaration of a purpose to save the world. It is more: it is itself a certain stage in that reconciliation, and the point of departure for every other. In the Incarnation, God and, man are already in a sense one, In Christ a pure point of union is established with our fallen and sin-laden humanity, and this carries with it the assurance that everything 297else that is necessary for the complete recovery of the world to God will not be lacking. Theories, therefore, have never been wanting in the Church which, in one form or another, lay the stress in Redemption on the simple fact of the Incarnation. As Dr. Hodge has expressed it, “The Incarnation itself, the union of the Divine and human natures, was the great saving act. Christ redeems us by what He is, not by what He does.”714714System. Theology, ii. p. 585. Germs of such theories appear in some of the early Church fathers, e.g. in Irenaeus.715715E.g. “To this end the Word of God was made Man, and He who was the Son of God became the Son of man, that man, having been taken into the Word, and receiving the adoption, might become the Son of God.”—Iren. iii. 19. Harnack finds a germ of this doctrine in Justin Martyr.—Dogmengeschichte, i. p. 459. There are, however, other elements in the teaching on Redemption of all these Fathers. They reappeared in the Middle Ages, and at the Reformation.716716E.g. Osiander, Schwenkfeld. They have a modern analogue in the theories of the Hegelian school, which in the realised unity of God and humanity in Christ see the prototype of that unity of God and man which is to be accomplished in the race in general. The thought of the identity of Incarnation and Redemption colours modern theology in many other ways.717717E.g. in the school of Erskine of Linlathen. Cf. Murphy, Scientific Basis of Faith (a disciple of this school): “I do not speak of the Incarnation as one act and the Atonement as another—they are one and the same Divine act, which in itself is called the Incarnation, and in its results is called the Atonement. The act of the Son of God in becoming a partaker of our nature is the Incarnation; the result of this act, in making us partakers of the Divine nature, is the Atonement or Reconciliation; though these latter words are both of them inadequate.”—P. 384. These theories are obviously defective, if meant to exhaust the whole Scripture doctrine on the subject; but they have their point of truth in this, that the perfect union of the Word with humanity is already a reconciliation of the race with God in principle, and is, besides, the medium by which a new Divine life is introduced into humanity—a view with which the theology of John specially connects itself.
In further considering the theories on this subject, it will be convenient to observe that all theories of Redemption within Christian limits agree in taking for granted three things as included under this term—
1. There is the removal of guilt, or of the consciousness of guilt, which carries with it the sense of the Divine forgiveness.
2. There is the breaking down of the actual enmity of the 298heart and will to God, and the turning of the sinner from dead works to serve the hiving and true God.
3. There is the taking up of the believer into the positive fellowship of eternal life with Christ, and into the consciousness of a Divine Sonship.
These are the immediate effects, from which others follow in a changed relation to the world, gradual progress in holiness, and deliverance at death and in eternity from all natural and spiritual evils.
Accordingly now as theories relate themselves predominantly to one or other of these points of view, they present a different aspect.
1. Theories which attach themselves by preference to the last point of view—that of fellowship—are apt to regard Christ chiefly as the type of the normal relation of God to humanity, and to subordinate the other aspects of His life and work to this.
2. Theories which attach themselves to the second point of view—the breaking down of the sinner’s enmity—regard Christ’s work as a great moral dynamic—“the power of God unto salvation,”718718Rom. i. 16. the effect of which is to break down the natural distrust of the heart towards God, and to melt the sinner into penitence,—“to bring men,” as Bushnell expresses it, “out & their sins, and so out of their penalties.”719719Vicarious Sacrifice, p. 7.
3. Theories which attach themselves to the first point of view—the removal of guilt—lay special stress on the relation of Christ’s work to the Divine righteousness, and view it specially as an expiation.
A perfect theory, if we could obtain it, would be one which did justice to all these standpoints, and presented them in their scriptural relations to each other and to the Person and work, of the Redeemer.
Without adhering rigidly to the scheme here indicated, which would be indeed impossible, seeing that the different theories cross each other at innumerable points, I shall now glance at the chief standpoints represented in these theories, and try to show that they gradually lead us up to a view which embraces them all; and is in harmony with the full Scripture testimony.
1. We have a class of theories which start from the idea of 299 fellowship, based on the unique relation which Christ sustains to the race as perfect, archetypal Man—a relation expressed in the title—“Son of Man.” The point on which stress is laid here is the solidarity between Christ and the race which He came to save, a true thought in itself, and one which takes the place in modern theology of the older way of looking at Christ’s relation to the race as purely federal or official. The typical example of this class of theories is Schleiermacher’s. With the idea of fellowship Schleiermacher combines that of representation. The essence of Redemption, in his view, consists in deliverance from the miserable contradiction of flesh and spirit, through being taken up into the fellowship of Christ’s life of holiness and blessedness.720720“The Redeemer takes believers up into the fellowship of His untroubled blessedness, and this is His atoning activity.”—Der christl. Glaube, sec. 101. As standing in this fellowship with Christ, believers are the objects of the love of God, who looks upon them in Him. “Christ,” he says, “purely represents us before God in virtue of His own perfect fulfilment of the Divine will, to which, through His life in us, the impulse is active in us also, so that in this connection with Him we also are objects of the Divine good pleasure.”721721Ibid. ii. p. 133. In thus speaking of Christ in His sinless perfection as representing believers before God, it might appear as if Schleiermacher held a doctrine of imputation,—indeed, he says this is the true meaning of that much misunderstood phrase, the imputation of the righteousness of Christ.722722Ibid. ii. p. 133. When, however, we probe the matter a little further, his meaning is found to be nothing more than this—that God already sees in the initial stage of the believer’s holiness the germ of his subsequent full perfection,—of that perfection of which Christ is the pattern or type,—and views him in the light of that ideal.723723Ibid. ii. pp. 133, 134. This thought of a justification through germinal holiness is a favourite one with writers of a mystical and speculative tendency; but it manifestly shifts the ground of acceptance from Christ for us to Christ in us, and treats objective reconciliation as unnecessary.724724Note A—The Germ Theory of Justification. In Schleiermacher’s theory, accordingly, as in those of a kindred type, Christ’s sufferings and death have only a very subordinate place. These sufferings arose from His being in a world where evils are a necessary result of sin, and from His fellow-feeling for us in our sins.300
They may therefore be called substitutionary, as endured by a sinless Being for the sake of others, but they are in no sense satisfactory or expiatory. They are connected with our Redemption as teaching us to feel that outward evils are not necessarily penal, but chiefly through the Revelation they give us of Christ’s constancy and love, and through the moral impression they are fitted to make upon us.725725 Cf. on these views, Der christl. Glaube, ii. pp. 136–147. Schleiermacher’s theory in the end thus passes over into one of moral influence; indeed, it is through the powerful working of Christ’s Personality upon us that we are moved to enter into fellowship with Him at all. He is our Redeemer through the exceptional strength of His God-consciousness, by which our own is invigorated to overcome sin. If, then, we ask how, on this theory, the sense of guilt is removed, the answer we get is very curious. In fellowship with Christ, Schleiermacher says, the believer is a new man, and in the new man sin is no longer active. Sin in the believer is but the after-working and back-working of the old man, and as such the believer does not identify himself with it.726726Der christl. Glaube, ii. p. 194. What Schleiermacher means by forgiveness of sins is indicated in the following sentence: “The beginning here is the vanishing of the old man, consequently also of the old manner of referring all evil to sin, therefore the vanishing of the consciousness of desert of punishment, consequently the first thing in the moment of reconciliation is the forgiveness of sin”—P. 105. He is relieved, therefore, from the consciousness of guilt. Something like this is Kant’s theory,727727Religion innerhalb der Grenzen der bloss. Vernunft, Book ii. sec. 3. and in our own days it is the theory of a section of the Plymouth Brethren—so do extremes meek But it is evident that, on this hypothesis, the doctrine of forgiveness is retained only in name. The old man is not forgiven, and the new man does not need forgiveness. Between the two forgiveness falls to the ground.728728Ritschl rightly remarks that what Schleiermacher calls reconciliation with God is really reconciliation with evil,—“the reconciliation of man with suffering, with his position in the world, which as sinner he had traced to his guilt.”—Recht. und Ver. i. p. 470 (Eng. trans.).
2. Schleiermacher, in his treatment of Christ’s sufferings, lays special stress on His sympathy or fellow-feeling with us, as a cause of these sufferings. This gives us a point of transition to a second class of theories, the keynote of which may be said to be sympathy. The starting-point here is not the thought of Christ’s archetypal perfection, but the fitness 301of Christianity in a dynamical relation to break down the enmity of the sinner’s heart to God. The best-known type of this class of theory is Dr. Bushnell’s, in his original and freshest presentation of it in his work on Vicarious Sacrifice. The strong and true point in Dr. Bushnell’s theory is in its insistence on the vicarious element involved in the very nature of sympathetic love. We speak of Christ’s substitutionary work,729729Cf. Dorner, System of Doctrine, iv. pp. 89–98: “There are substitutionary forces, and a receptiveness for them in humanity.”—of His standing, suffering, dying for sinners,—but how often do we apprehend this in a purely external and official way! It is the merit of Dr. Bushnell’s book that, with a wealth of illustration drawn from every sphere of life in which a like law of substitution prevails, he makes us feel that it is something real and vital. When we speak of sympathy, we are already in a region in which substitutionary forces are at work. “None of us liveth to himself, and none dieth to himself.”730730Rom. xiv. 8 (R.V.). We benefit and suffer involuntarily through each other, but we have it also in our power to enter voluntarily into the partnership of the world’s joys and sorrows, and by bearing the burdens of others to help to relieve them of their load. From His unique relation to our race, this law applied in the highest degree to Christ. In the whole domain of love, Divine and human, we find substitutionary forces acting; but in Christ’s life we find them acting at a maximum. Christ not only wears our nature, but in the exercise of a perfect sympathy He truly identifies Himself with us in our lot, bears our sins and sorrows on His soul, and represents us to the Father, not as an external legal surety, but with a throbbing heart of love. This of itself may not be Atonement—we shall see immediately it is not—but whatever else there is in Atonement, Scripture warrants us in saying that at least there is this. “Himself took our infirmities, and bare our diseases,” says Matthew,731731Matt. viii. 17. in a passage which Dr. Bushnell adopts as the key to his theory. “It behoved Him in all things to be made like unto His brethren,. that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.”732732Heb. ii. 17 (R.V.); cf. v. 12.
This, then, is the key which Dr. Bushnell gives us to the 302vicarious sufferings of Christ—that of sympathetic love; and so far as the book in question goes, it is the whole key. If I were disposed to criticise the theory minutely, I might remark that, on Dr. Bushnell’s own principles, it is too narrow to cover all the facts. To get an adequate explanation of Christ’s undeserved sufferings, alike as regards their nature, their motive, and their end, we need a wider view of them than is covered by this single word—sympathy. Sympathy, in a pure and holy nature like Christ’s, was necessarily one cause of His sufferings, but it was not the only cause. He suffered from natural causes—as hunger and thirst, from the unbelief of the world, from the persecutions and malice of His enemies, from temptations of the devil, from the faithlessness and desertion of disciples, etc. Deeper and more mysterious causes of suffering are not obscurely intimated in the Gospel narratives. Sympathy was only indirectly concerned with all these. If it be said that it was the sympathetic entrance into and endurance of these sufferings which gave them their vicarious character, I would remark that we need here a wider word than sympathy. Christ voluntarily took upon Him abasement, suffering, and death for the salvation of men; but He did so, not simply from sympathy; but—as Dr. Bushnell also often recognises, though still generally emphasising the sympathetic aspect—in a spirit of large, self-sacrificing love. Love includes sympathy, but is not necessarily exhausted by it. We take also too narrow a view when we seek in the moral influence of sympathy or love the sole key to the peculiar fruitfulness of self-sacrifice. That self-sacrifice acts as a potent inspiration to like deeds in others—that it has power to soften and subdue the obdurate heart—is a great truth. But it should not be overlooked that a main part of the secret of the fruitfulness of self-sacrifice lies in the way in which one life is linked with another, and society is bound together as a whole; so that, through the labours and sacrifices of one, or of a handful, martyrs or patriots, benefits accrue to multitudes who never come within the range of its moral influence.733733This is admirably worked out in the section on the fruitfulness of sacrifice in Bishop Westcott’s The Victory of the Cross, ii. 23–35.
This leads directly to another remark—namely, that Dr. Bushnell does not give any clear answer to the question, What was the distinctive life-task, or vocation, in the 303fulfilment of which these great and heavy sorrows came upon Christ? This is a point of very great importance. Sympathy, or disinterested love, will lead one person to undertake labours and undergo sacrifices for another, but the sacrifice is undergone, not for the mere sake of displaying sympathy, but always in the prosecution of some independent end. The mother wears out her strength for her sick child, but it is in the hope that by her nursing she will aid in its recovery. The philanthropist will devote life and fortune for the cause in which he is interested, but it is in carrying out plans and projects which he thinks will contribute to the success of his object. If we ask, then, What was the work which Christ came into the world to do, in the accomplishment of which He endured such sufferings? it will not do to reply simply, To manifest sympathy, for the sake of the moral impression to be produced by it. We must still ask, What was the work which made submission to this suffering necessary? To this question Dr. Bushnell gives us no very definite answer, none which carries us beyond Christ’s immediate ministries to soul and body, or His witness-bearing in word or deed for the Father. But even this must have for its content some special declaration of God’s character and will, if it is not simply to point us back to the exhibition of love in the vicarious suffering. It is on the latter really that Dr. Bushnell lays all the stress; the suffering, in his view, is not simply a necessary incident in the prosecution of some independent task of love, but is the main, substantial reason of Christ’s appearance in the world.734734The work of Christ he conceives of “as beginning at the point of sacrifice, vicarious sacrifice, ending at the same, and being just this all through.”—Vicarious Sacrifice, Introduction, p. 35 (1886). On the sense in which he does regard Christ’s work as declarative, i.e. as a Revelation of the eternal vicarious sufferings of the Godhead, see below. If, on the other hand, we lay the chief weight on the witness of Christ, and view His sufferings in subordination to this as furnishing occasions for the manifestation of His patience, steadfastness, and love to men—then is His work purely declarative, His sufferings add nothing to its content, and owe their value for redemptive purposes solely to their power of moral enforcement.
It is obvious that, if Dr. Bushnell’s theory be true, vicarious suffering which has redemptive efficacy, is not confined to 304Christ, but runs through the whole spiritual universe. This, indeed, is what he asserts.735735Vicarious Sacrifice, pp. 17, 18. “The suffering of Christ,” he says, “was vicarious suffering in no way peculiar to Him, save in degree.”—P. 68. It points, however, to a clear defect in his view, inasmuch as it removes the work of Christ from that unique and exceptional position which the Scriptures constantly ascribe to it. Even were this difficulty surmounted, there remains the crowning objection, which is the really fatal one—namely, that in resolving the redeeming efficacy of the sufferings of Christ solely into their moral influence, the theory runs directly counter to the explicit and uniform declarations of the New Testament, which put in the foreground their expiatory and propitiatory character. It is the less necessary to ask whether Dr. Bushnell’s theory in this respect is adequate, since he himself at a subsequent period was compelled to modify it in favour of the recognition of an objective element in the Atonement. In his later work on Forgiveness and Law, he tells us that he had formerly conceived the whole import and effect of Christ’s work to lie in its reconciling power on others; now he has been brought to see that it has a propitiatory effect on God also. The peculiar view which underlies this second work—namely, that God must overcome His repugnance to the sinner by making cost or sacrifice for him, need not detain us here, especially as I do not know of anyone who has ever adopted it.736736In this work Dr. Bushnell develops the idea already suggested in his earlier book (pp. 18, 35, 37), that Christ’s sacrifice has its chief significance as a revelation of the eternal sacrifice in God’s own nature. “The transactional matter of Christ’s life and death,” he says, “is a specimen chapter, so to speak, of the infinite hook that records the eternal going on of God’s blessed nature within. . . . All God’s forgiving dispositions are dateless, and are cast in this mould. The Lambhood nature is in Him, and the cross set up, before the Incarnate Son arrives. . . . I have already said that the propitiation, so called, is not a fact accomplished in time, but an historic matter represented in that way, to exhibit the interior, ante-mundane, eternally proceeding sacrifice of the Lamb that was slain before the foundation of the world”—Pp. 60, 61, 74. This, surely, is to give Christ’s work something of a docetic character. But I cannot refrain from adverting, as most of Dr. Bushnell’s critics have done, to the striking evidence which even the earlier volume affords of the necessity of recognising an objective propitiation. There is, perhaps, nothing more curious in literature than the way in which, in the closing chapter of his Vicarious Sacrifice, after exhausting all his powers to convince us that the efficacy of Christ’s 305sufferings lies solely in their moral efficacy, Dr. Bushnell practically throws the whole theory he has been inculcating to the winds as inadequate for the moral and spiritual needs of men. “In the facts of our Lord’s passion,” he says, “outwardly regarded, there is no sacrifice, or oblation, or atonement, or propitiation, but simply a living and dying thus and thus. . . . If, then, the question arises, How are we to use such a history so as to be reconciled by it? we hardly know in what way to begin. How shall we come to God by the help of this martyrdom? How shall we turn it, or turn ourselves under it, so as to be justified and set in peace with God? Plainly there is a want here, and this want is met by giving a thought-form to the facts which is not in the facts themselves. They are put directly into the moulds of the altar, and we are called to accept the crucified God-Man as our sacrifice, an offering or oblation for us, our propitiation, so as to be sprinkled from our evil conscience—washed, purged, and cleansed from our sin. . . . So much is there in this, that without these forms of the altar we should be utterly at a loss in making any use of the Christian facts that would set us in a condition of practical reconciliation with God. Christ is good, beautiful, wonderful; His disinterested hove is a picture by itself; His forgiving patience melts into my feeling; His passion rends my heart. But what is He for? And how shall He be made to me the salvation that I want? One word—He is my sacrifice—opens all to me; and beholding Him, with all my sin upon Him, I count Him my offering; I come unto God by Him, and enter into the holiest by His blood.”737737Vicarious Sacrifice, pp. 460, 461. Not a word needs to be added to this self-drawn picture by Dr. Bushnell of the inadequacy of a mere moral influence theory of the Atonement. If the soul, in order to find peace with God, must explicitly renounce that theory, how can it be put forward as in any sense a theory of reconciliation? It fails to satisfy the wants of the awakened conscience; and it fails to satisfy Scripture, which, as we have seen, demands an objective connection between Christ’s work and our forgiveness.
3. Before dealing with theories which recognise an objective element in the Atonement, it may be useful to glance at a 306 theory which really belongs to the subjective class, though its author has done his best to give it an objective form—I mean the theory of Ritschl As Bushnell’s theory turns on . the idea of sympathy, so that of Ritschl may be said to turn on the idea of Vocation. Ritschl’s strong point lies precisely in the answer which he gives to the question which Bushnell failed to meet—namely, What was the work which Christ came into the world to do, which entailed on Him suffering and rejection? What was His vocation, His life-work, His peculiar moral task? It is this thought of Christ’s fulfilment of His vocation (Beruf) which is the central thing in Ritschl. He speaks of the solidaric unity of Christ with God.738738Unterricht, pp. 20, 21; cf. Recht. und Ver. 3rd ed. iii. p. 428. By this he means that Christ adopted God’s end in the creation and government of the world (Weltzweck) as His own end, and lived and died to fulfil it. This end is summed up in the establishing of the kingdom of God—that is, of a religious and moral community, in which the members are bound together by hove to God and love to man, and act solely from the motive of hove; and in which they attain the end aimed at in all religions, namely, moral supremacy over the world, which is Ritschl’s synonym for eternal life.739739Cf. Ibid. pp. 7, 12; cf. Recht. und Ver. iii. p. 497: “Therefore is the direct content of eternal life or of blessedness to be recognised in the religious functions ruling the world.”—P. 497 (“Eternal Life, or Freedom over the World,” title of sec. 54). This, it will be allowed, is a somewhat bald scheme, and it does not become richer as we proceed. In what sense, we ask, is Christ a Redeemer? The essential part of the answer seems to be that through His Revelation of God’s grace and truth, through His preaching of the kingdom of God, and through His personal devotion to God’s world-aim, He influences and enables men to turn from their sins, and leads them to appropriate God’s end as their own. The uniqueness of Christ’s Person is supposed to be secured by the fact that in Him first the final end of the kingdom of God is realised in a personal life, so that everyone who would undertake the same life-task must do it in dependence on Him.740740Ibid. p. 20. Ritschl, therefore, is able, like Schleiermacher, to speak of Christ as the “Urbild” of humanity in its relation to the kingdom of God, 307 and as such the original object of the love of God, in whom God beholds and loves those who are embraced in His fellowship.741741Unterricht, p. 20. But fellowship here means simply unity of moral aim. What significance, on this theory, have the sufferings of Christ? Only this significance, that they are the highest proof of Christ’s fidelity in His vocation—the guarantee of the reality of that new relation to God which is exhibited in His Person.742742Cf. ibid. pp. 36, 37, 38. Here, as in Schleiermacher, we are plainly back to the theory of a mere moral influence. Ritschl, like Dr. Bushnell, would cast his idea of Christ’s death in the moulds of the altar; but this must be connected with his theory of the Old Testament sacrifices, which, he holds, had no reference to Atonement for sin, but only served to dispel the creature’s distrust in drawing near to a great and awful God. Christ, in like manner, by His death, brings us near to God by dispelling distrust of God, and inspiring confidence in His grace.743743Cf. ibid. p. 40. Cf. Dorner’s criticism of Ritschl on this point, System of Doctrine, iii. 405, 406. What, finally, on this theory, becomes of the idea of guilt? Strictly speaking, guilt is not removed, but God admits us to fellowship with Himself, and to co-operation with Him in work for His kingdom, without our guilt, or feeling of guilt, forming any hindrance thereto.744744Ibid. p. 32. This is what Ritschl understands by justification. It is the easier for him to take this view, that, as we saw before, guilt with him has little objective significance, and exists more for our own feeling than for God.745745Ritschl’s view of Christ’s sufferings and their relation to forgiveness is expounded at length in his Recht. und Vers. 3rd ed. iii. 417–428, 505–533. Cf. specially pp. 422, 511, 512, 513, 524, 574. “Christ’s death, in the view of the apostles, is the compendious expression for the fact that Christ has inwardly maintained His religious unity with God and His revelation-position in the whole course of His life.”—P. 511. In proportion as this view is adopted, however, the experience of forgiveness becomes subjective also, and there remains nothing objective but the actual change of mind and feeling.746746It is not remarkable, therefore, that Herrmann, as quoted by Lipsius, should speak of the forgiveness of sins as “nothing at all particular” (ganz nichts besonderes).—Die Ritschl’sche Theologie, p. 12. Herrmann certainly expresses himself very differently in his Verkehr, pp. 39, 40 (2nd ed. p. 103). It is plain that we have here quite changed the centre of gravity in the Christian view of Redemption; and the only remedy is to restore the idea of guilt to its scriptural 308importance, which, again, necessitates a changed idea of its treatment.747747A kindred view of atonement to Ritschl’s is that of F. A. B. Nitzsch in his Lehrbuch der Evang. Dogmatik, ii. (1892). “God,” he holds, “could only forgive the sin of humanity if the representative of humanity was able to afford him the security of a moral renewal of the same, the security of a new humanity. But this Christ did as the Beginner of the new humanity, and as Founder of a community upon which He could take over His own fellowship with God. We cannot, therefore, say that the doing of Christ first made it possible for God the Father to he graciously disposed to men, but rather that He made it possible for God to reveal His grace.”—P. 508. Christ is therefore a guarantee to God for our future sanctification. This is not a thought which we find prominent in Scripture, while the scriptural idea that Christ reconciles us to God by removal of our guilt is overlooked.
The theories we are now to consider differ from those we have just had under review, in that they recognise an objective element in the Atonement, and in this way come nearer to the manifest teaching of Scripture. They recognise that Christ’s work not only affects us subjectively in the way of moral influence, but is an objective work, on the ground of which God forgives sin, and receives us into fellowship with Himself. And the question they raise is, What is the nature of this objective element?
4. The first answer which is given to this question is by that group of theories which find the essential feature in the Atonement in the surrender of the holy will of Christ to God. The idea of Atonement here, then, is the self-surrender of the human will to the Divine. This is Maurice’s theory, but essentially also that of Rothe, Pressense, Bahr, Oehler, and many others.748748Cf. Rothe’s Dogmatik, ii. pp. 265–269; Pressense, Apostolic Age, p. 274 (Eng. trans. 4th ed.); Bahr, Symbolik, etc. Here, as in previous theories, Christ is regarded as the Head of the race, and as representing in Himself all humanity. In this humanity He offers up to God the perfect sacrifice of a will entirely surrendered to His service. As Maurice puts it, “Supposing the Father’s will to be a will to all good; supposing the Son of God, being one with Him and Lord of man, to obey and fulfil in our flesh that will by entering into the lowest condition into which men had fallen through their sin; supposing this Man to be, for this reason, an object of continual complacency to His Father, and that complacency to be fully drawn out by the death of the cross; supposing His death to be a sacrifice, the only complete sacrifice ever offered, the entire surrender of the whole spirit and body to God,—is not this, in 309the highest sense, the Atonement? Is not the true, sinless root of humanity revealed; is not God in Him reconciled to man? Is not the cross the meeting-point between man and man, between man and God?”749749Theological Essays, p. 147. That which, on this view, gives the sacrifice of Christ its value, is not the suffering, but the perfect will of obedience expressed in the suffering. When, according to the Epistle to the Hebrews, sacrifices and offerings, and whole burnt-offerings and sacrifices for sin, God would not, neither had pleasure therein, “then hath He said, Lo, I am come to do Thy will. He taketh away the first, that He may establish the second. By which will we have been sanctified, through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”750750Heb. x. 5-10 (R.V.). This surrender of the will is the only kind of sacrifice God delights in, and it is the perfect Atonement.751751Erskine of Linlathen’s theory was akin to this: “The true and proper sacrifice for our sin” is “the shedding out of the blood of our will—of that will which had offended.”—Doctrine of Election, 2nd ed. p. 156. The sin of humanity is its negation of the will of God, and the cross takes back that negation on behalf of humanity. This is brought into harmony with the Old Testament sacrifices by the theory that in these sacrifices it is not the death of the victim that is the essential thing, but the presentation of the blood. The death is only the means of obtaining the blood, which, as the vehicle of the pure life, the offerer presents to God as a covering for his own sin.752752Cf. e.g., Oehler, Theology of Old Testament, i. p. 411 (Eng. trans.); Bahr, Symbolik (see his view criticised by Dorner, System of Doctrine, iii. pp. 407, 408; and Fairbairn, Typology, 3rd ed. ii. pp. 290–297). Thus also Rothe, Riehm, Nitzsch, Schultz, etc.
Again, there can be no doubt of the deep spiritual truth involved in this theory of the sacrifice which Christ offered for our Redemption. We may again say that, whatever else there is in the Atonement, there is this in it. Viewing Christ’s death as a sacrifice, we cannot question that the nerve and core of the sacrifice was the holy will, in which, through the Eternal Spirit, He offered Himself without spot or blemish to God.753753Heb. ix. 14, x. 4-10. It was not the mere fact of the sufferings, but that which was the soul of the sufferings,—the holy, loving will in which they were borne, and the self-surrender to the will of the Father in them,—which gave them their spiritual value.754754This is the point of view emphasised in Bishop Westcott’s The Victory of the Cross, which may be classed with this group of theories. The key-word; of the book are Fatherhood, Incarnation, Sacrifice. Sufferings in general are viewed in the light of discipline—“a revelation of the Fatherhood of God, who brings back His children to Himself in righteousness and love.”—P. 82. Christ bore these sufferings according to the mind of God as “entering into the Divine law of purifying chastisement,” “realising in every pain the healing power of a Father’s wisdom.”—Pp. 69, 82. But in what sense can we speak of “purifying chastisement” and “healing power” in the case of the Sinless One? Bishop Westcott himself has expressions which recognise a deeper relation of sufferings to sin, as where, e.g., Christ is spoken of as gathering “into one supreme sacrifice the bitterness of death, the last penalty of sin, knowing all it means, and hearing it as He knows”; and His sufferings are held as showing “His complete acceptance of the just, the inevitable sentence of God on the sin at humanity.”—Pp. 68, 81. The thoughts of the book are not worked out into perfect clearness. The only question is, 310Is this the whole of the explanation? Does this exhaust the meaning of Christ’s sacrifice? Does this fill up the whole of the scriptural testimony regarding it? And, however fascinated one may be for a time with this theory, it seems impossible permanently to rest in it as adequate. I do not go back on the inadequacy of a theory which lays the whole stress of Atonement on self-sacrifice, without saying sacrifice for what, or in what, but come at once to the point in which it seems peculiarly to fail. That point is, that the Scriptures appear to assert a direct relation of the sacrifice of Christ to the sin and guilt of men,—a direct expiatory power to remove that guilt,—a relation, not only to God’s commanding will, but to His condemning will. Not only the Old and New Testament doctrine of the righteousness and holiness of God, and of His judicial attitude towards sin,—not only the extreme gravity of the scriptural doctrine of guilt, but the deepest feeling of the awakened conscience itself, demands that guilt shall not be simply overlooked, but that it shall be dealt with also in the transacting of Christ with God for man, and that the forgiveness which is sealed in His death. shall have placed on it the holy sanction of justice as well as that of love. I go on, therefore—
5. To look at theories which not only affirm the offering up of a holy will of obedience in Christ’s sacrifice, but recognise its relation to guilt. Such theories include, after all, among their representatives, the great bulk of the ablest and most scriptural theologians—as Dorner, Luthardt, Martensen, Oosterzee, Godet, etc.; and an undesigned testimony is borne to their substantial truth by the approximations often made to them in theories of a different tendency, and by the difficulty felt in avoiding language which would imply the expiatory view, as well as by 311the studied accommodation of all parties, as far as possible, to the recognised language of the Church. Yet the dislike of many, and these often men of the most spiritual mind, to the forms of the imputation theology, their inability to rest in anything which seems to them to wear an air of legal fiction, suggests to us the necessity of seeking to approach even this side of the subject from within, and of trying to connect it with spiritual laws which will commend it to the conscience and the heart.
I may begin here with a theory which, though it opposes itself directly to the idea of penal sufferings, yet deals with this question of the relation of Atonement to guilt, and has, I think, valuable light to throw upon the subject,—more, perhaps, than is sometimes admitted,—I refer to the theory of Dr. John M’Leod Campbell. Dr. Campbell starts with the Incarnation, and his idea is to see the Atonement developing itself naturally and necessarily out of Christ’s relation to men as the Incarnate Son—which is, I think, a sound point of view. Next, he distinguishes in Christ’s work two sides—(l) a dealing with men on the part of God, and (2) a dealing with God on the part of men; which, again, I think, is a true distinction. The peculiarity of his theory, and here undoubtedly it becomes artificial and indefensible, lies in the proposal to substitute a vicarious, repentance for sins, and confession of sins, for the vicarious endurance of the penalties of transgression.755755The Nature of the Atonement, chap. vii. There is here, first, a confusion between repentance for sins and confession of them. The idea that Christ could in any sense repent of the sins of the humanity which He represented, could bring to God “a perfect repentance” for them, is one totally inadmissible, even though his premiss were granted, which it cannot be, that a perfect repentance would of itself constitute Atonement. That Christ should confess our sins in His high-priestly intercession for us with God is, on the other hand, not inadmissible, but is rightly classed as a part of His substitutionary activity for us. It has its analogies in the intercessory confessions of Moses, Daniel, and Nehemiah, and may very well be regarded by us as an element in the Atonement.
When we get behind Dr. Campbell’s words, and look at the kernel of his theory, and even at what he means to convey by 312these unfortunate expressions about a perfect repentance, we obtain light on the Atonement which is, I think, valuable. The point of this theory, as I understand it—that on which Dr. Campbell himself constantly insists through all his volume—is, that with the most perfect apprehension of what the sin of man was, on the one hand, and of what the mind of God towards sin, and sin’s due at the hands of God, were, on the other, there went up from the depths of Christ’s sinless humanity a perfect “Amen” to the righteous judgment of God against sin. There must, therefore, be recognised, even on Dr. M’Leod Campbell’s theory, a certain dealing of Christ with God’s wrath—with His judicial condemnation upon sin. “Christ, in dealing with God on behalf of men,” he says, “must be conceived of as dealing with the righteous wrath of God against sin, and as according to it that which was due.”756756The Nature of the Atonement, 4th ed. p. 117. “Let us consider,” he says again, “this ‘Amen’ from the depths of the humanity of Christ to the Divine condemnation of sin. What is it in relation to God’s wrath against sin? What place has it in Christ’s dealing with that wrath? I answer, He who so responds to the Divine wrath against sin, saying, ‘Thou art righteous, O Lord, who judgest so,’ is necessarily receiving the full apprehension and realisation of that wrath, as well as of that sin against which it comes forth, into His soul and spirit, into the bosom of the Divine humanity, and so receiving it, He responds to it with a perfect response—a response from the depths of that Divine humanity, and in that perfect response He absorbs it.”757757Ibid. p. 118. If, however, this were all that was in Dr. Campbell’s theory, we should still have to say that, valuable as the suggestion is which it contains, it is only a half-truth. It will be observed that, so far as these quotations go, it is only a vivid mental realisation of God’s wrath against sin to which we are to conceive Christ as responding. He has the perfect realisation of what sin is in man; He has the perfect realisation of God’s mind towards sin; but He is Himself in no sense brought under the experience of that wrath, or of its penal effects: it may be thought by many He could not be. And this might seem to detract from the value of that “Amen” from the depths of Christ’s humanity on which all the stress is laid. To take an analogous case, it is one thing to be patient 313 and resigned under a vivid mental realisation of possible trials, another thing to be resigned under actual experience of sorrow. Yet the only resignation which has worth is that which has been actually tested in the fires of trial. In order, therefore, that Christ’s “Amen” to the judgment of God against sin might have its fullest content, it would appear to be necessary that it should be uttered, not under a mere ideal realisation of what God’s wrath against sin is, but under the actual pressure of the judgment which that wrath inflicts. Is this possible? Strange to say, with all his protests against Christ being thought of as enduring penal evils, it is precisely this view to which Dr. Campbell in the end comes. He is quite awake to the fact of the unique character of Christ’s sufferings; quite aware that they involved elements found in no ordinary martyr’s death; quite conscious that an “Amen” uttered, as he calls it, “in naked existence,”758758The Nature of the Atonement, p. 259. would have little value. It must be uttered under actual experience of the evils which this judgment of God lays on humanity, especially under the experience of death. The closing period of Christ’s life, he says, was one of which the distinctive character was suffering in connection with a permitted hour and power of darkness;759759Ibid. p. 224. while his remarks on our Lord’s tasting death are so important and apposite that I cannot forbear quoting one or two of them. “When I think of our Lord as tasting death,” he says, “it seems to me as if He alone ever truly tasted death. . . Further, as our Lord alone truly tasted death, so to Him alone had death its perfect meaning as the wages of sin. . . . For thus, in Christ’s honouring of the righteous law of God, the sentence of the law was included, as well as the mind of God which that sentence expressed. . . . Had sin existed in men as mere spirits, death could not have been the wages of sin, and any response to the Divine mind concerning sin which would have been an Atonement for their sin, could only have had spiritual elements; but man being by the constitution of humanity capable of death, and death having come as the wages of sin, it was not simply sin that had to be dealt with, but an existing law with its penalty of death, and that death as already incurred. So that it was not only the Divine mind that had to be responded to, but also that expression of the 314Divine mind which was contained in God’s making death the wages of sin.”760760The Nature of the Atonement. pp. 259–262. He even sips: “The peace-making between God and man, which was perfected by our Lord an the cross, required to its reality the presence to the spirit of Christ of the elements of the alienation as well as the possession by Him of that eternal righteousness in which was the virtue to make peace”—Page 250. The italics in the extracts are Dr. Campbell’s own. It is evident how nearly in such passages Dr. Campbell comes to a theory of the Atonement which holds that Christ, as a member of humanity and the new Head of the race, really bore in His own Person the penal evils which are the expression of the wrath of God against the sin of the world. He maintains, in deed, that for Christ these were not really penal evils; but, in the light of the explanations just given, the difference seems to resolve itself mainly into one of nomenclature. Whatever sense we may give to that expression, “Christ bore the wrath of God for us,” it is held by no one to mean that Christ was personally the object of His Father’s anger. All that is meant is that by Divine ordainment He passed under the experience of evils which are the expression of God’s wrath against sin, or a judgment laid on humanity on account of that sin. The peculiarly valuable idea, as I take it, which Dr. Campbell brings to the elucidation of Christ’s sufferings as atoning is—that it was not simply the patience and resignation with which lie bore them, not simply the surrender of His will to God in them, but the perfect acknowledgment, which accompanied His endurance of them, of the righteousness of God in their ordainment, which made them a satisfaction for sin. “By that perfect response in Amen to the mind of God, in relation to sill,” as he himself expresses it, “is the wrath of God rightly met, and that is accorded to Divine justice which is its due, and could alone satisfy it”761761Ibid. p. 119.
It is, I own, difficult to frame a theory to which no exception can be taken, which shall show how the sufferings of Christ, which were in large part sufferings endured for righteousness’ sake, had at the same time an expiatory value; yet it is the clear teaching of Scripture that they possess this character. As aids to the apprehension of the subject, the facts remain that these sufferings of the sinless Sell of God were voluntarily under taken, and (what can be said of no other of the race) wholly undeserved; that Christ did enter, as far as a sinless Being 315could, into the penal evils of our state, and finally submitted to death—the doom which sin has brought on our humanity; that He did this with a perfect consciousness and realisation of the relation of these evils to sill; that lie experienced the full bitterness of these evils, and. especially in His last hours, w as permitted to endure them without even the alleviations and spiritual comforts which many of His own people enjoy; that there were mysterious elements ill His sufferings, which outward causes do not seem adequate to explain (e.g. the agony in Gethsemane, the awful darkness of His soul on Calvary). which appear related to His position as our Sin-hearer;—finally, that in this mortal sorrow He still retains unbroken His relation to the Father, overcomes our spiritual enemies, so transacts with God for men, so offers Himself to God in substitutionary love on our behalf, so recognises and honours the justice of God in His condemnation of sin, and in the evils that were befalling Himself in consequence of that sin, that His death may fitly be regarded as a satisfaction to righteousness for us—the Redemption of the world, not, indeed, ipso facto, but for those who through faith appropriate His sacrifice, die in spirit with Him in His death, and make His righteousness the ground of their hope.
Is exception taken—as it was by the Socinians—to the idea of the innocent satisfying for the guilty h Is it asked, How should the righteous suffer for the guilty? Is it just that they should do so? Or, how can the sufferings of the righteous atone for the unrighteous? I would point out ill answer that there are two questions here. The first relates to a matter of fact—the suffering of the righteous for the guilty. We know that they do so. It is the commonest fact in our experience. In the organic relation in which we stand to each other it could not he otherwise. The penalties of evildoing are probably never confined to the actual wrong-doer, but overflow upon others, and sometimes involve them in untold misery. To impeach the justice of this is to impeach the justice of an organic constitution of the race. Thus far, then, we can say that Christ is no exception to this universal law; nay, He is the highest exemplification of it. Christ could not enter the world without receiving upon Him the brunt of its evils. Just because He was the infinitely pure 316and holy One, they fell on Him with greater severity. A writer like Bushnell here often uses the strongest language. He speaks of Christ as incarnated into the curse of the world. “It is,” he says, “as if the condemnations of God were upon Him, as they are on all the solidarities of the race into which He is come.”762762Forgiveness and Law, p. 155. “It means,” he says again, “that He is incarnated into common condition with us, under what is called the curse. . . . He must become a habitant with us, a fellow-nature, a brother; and that He could not be without being entered into what is our principal distinction as being under the curse. . . . He has it upon Him, consciously, as the curse or penal shame and disaster of our transgression.”763763Ibid. pp. 150, 158. Bushnell will have it that him “penal sanctions” are “never punitive, but only coercive and corrective.”—P. 132. But what does “penal” mean, if not “punitive”? And can penalties not be “judicial.” and yet up to a certain point “corrective”? The question is not, therefore, How should Christ, the sinless One, suffer for the guilty? but, How can sufferings thus endured become expiatory or atoning? And this I have tried to answer by pointing out the unique relation which Christ sustains to our race, in virtue of which He could become its Representative and Sin-bearer; and, secondly, by indicating how in our humanity He must, as Dr. M’Leod Campbell says, have related Himself to our sins—not only patiently and lovingly enduring sufferings, not only yielding up to His Father a will of obedience in them, but viewing them in the light of their causes, entering fully into God’s judgment on the sin of which they were the consequences, and rendering to God in our nature a full and perfect and glorifying response to His justice in them. In this way His sufferings might well become, like those of the Servant of the Lord in Isaiah liii., expiatory.
Gathering together, in closing, the various aspects of Christ’s work which have been brought before us, we see, I think, the truth of a previous remark that the true or full view of Christ’s work in Redemption is wide enough to include them all—takes up the elements of truth in every one of them. A complete view of Christ’s work will include the fact that in the Incarnation a new Divine life has entered humanity; will include the fact that Christ is our perfect Representative 317before God as the new Head of the race, and the wearer of our humanity in its pure and perfect form; will include the fact of an organic relation of Christ with all the members of the race, in virtue of which He entered, not merely outwardly, but in the most real and vital way, into the fellowship of our sin and suffering, and truly bore us on His heart before God as a merciful and faithful High Priest; will include the idea of a vocation which Christ had as Founder of the kingdom of God on earth, though this vocation will embrace, not only the Revelation of the Father’s character and doing His will among men, but also the making reconciliation for the sins of the people; will include the fact of a holy and perfect and continuous surrender of Christ’s will to God, as an offering, through the Eternal Spirit, in humanity, of that which man ought to render, but is unable in his own strength to give—the presentation to God in humanity, therefore, of a perfect righteousness, on the ground of which humanity stands in a new relation to God, and is accepted in the Beloved; will include, finally, a dealing with God in reference to the guilt of sin, which is not simply a sympathetic realisation of the burden of that guilt as it rests on us, nor yet simply a confession of sins in our name, nor yet simply an acknowledgment in humanity of the righteousness of God in visiting our sins with wrath and judgment, but is a positive entrance into the penal events of our condition, and, above all, into death as the last and most terrible of these evils, in order that in these also He might become one with us, and under that experience might render to God what was due to His judicial righteousness,—an Atonement which, as Dr. M’Leod Campbell says, has in it an “Amen” from the depths of our humanity towards the righteous judgment of God on our sins. So far from this latter aspect of Christ’s work—the judicial—being to be thrown into the background, it is, I think, the one which the apostolic theology specially fastens upon as the ground of the remission of sins, and the means by which the sinner is brought into a relation of peace with God—the ground, as Bunyan phrases it, on which God “justly justifies the sinner.”
Christ, as the Son of God, incarnate in our nature, is the only one qualified to undertake this work; and as Son of 318God and Son of Man He did it. He alone could enter, on the one hand, into the meaning of the sin of the world; on the other, into a realisation of all that was due to that sin from God, not minimising either the sin or the righteousness, but doing justice to both, upholding righteousness, yet opening to the world the gates of a forgiving mercy. In Him we see that done which we could not do; we see that brought which we could not bring; we see that reparation made to a broken law which we could not make; we see, at the same time, a righteousness consummated we long to make our own, a victory over the world we long to share, a will of love we long to have reproduced in ourselves, a grandeur of self sacrifice we long to imitate. And, appropriating that sacrifice, not only in its atoning merit, but in its inward spirit, we know ourselves redeemed and reconciled.
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