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Sec. 2. The Sinless Jesus as the Mediator between God and Sinful Man.
Although the revelation of the nature and will of God form an essential part of the scheme of salvation, yet it is evident that by it alone man cannot be saved. The relation of man to God is not merely one of intellect to intellect,—it is a relation of person to person, and embraces the whole life. And the more so, since the matter here in question concerns the position which the creature occupies with reference to 220his Creator, and thus to Him who is in all respects the source and support of his whole being. Hence nothing will suffice but perfect communion of life and of love. But this communion is opposed by sin, whose very nature is antagonism to God; and sin, which, as well as the guilt it implies, and the consequences that flow from it, is a real power in human life, cannot be done away with merely by means of knowledge, though this were the purest and most complete which can be conceived. In order to break its might, and destroy it, there must be opposed to it another equally real but higher power. But this power cannot come from man,—it must come from God. For it is only God who can forgive men their sins, and take away their guilt; from God alone can the scheme of reconciliation go forth; God alone can, by the actual communication of His grace, set up a new power in the soul, which shall be mightier than sin and all its consequences. And yet, since it is for men that the reconciliation is designed, it is only by a corresponding human medium that it can be consummated. Moreover, this human mediator must be capable of imparting to the soul a principle of life and goodness, in the place of the principle of sin, which is now subjugated. Just such a medium do we find in the sinless Jesus, as we shall now proceed to show.
In Him, the Son of God, who is one with the Father, we recognise not merely a typical and symbolical representation, but an actual realization and communication of the holy love and saving grace of God. All that He was, all that He did and suffered, had the joint purpose of bringing back sinful man into fellowship with God, of bestowing upon him Divine grace, and of bringing about a true reconciliation between him and the holy God. His sufferings and His death, which form the consummation of His whole life of self-sacrifice, occupy so special a position in this respect, that our attention must be more particularly directed to them.221
And, first, Jesus Himself attributes to His death and sufferings the utmost importance in this respect. In His view, His death was an essential element of the Divine counsel, and an indispensable part of that work of redemption which He came to accomplish.276276 Luke xxiv. 26, 46, 47. And in what sense it was so, is obvious from His own words. He calls Himself the Good Shepherd, who, while the hireling flees from the invading wolf, lays down His life for the sheep, that they may have life, and have it more abundantly.277277 John x. 11-16. He designates Himself as the corn of wheat, which, if it is not to abide alone, but to bring forth much fruit, must fall into the earth and die.278278 John xii. 24. He compares Himself—the Son of Man—with the serpent which Moses lifted up in the wilderness for the healing of the people,279279 John iii. 14, 15.—thus alluding to His own lifting up on the cross,280280 John viii. 28. the effect of which will be, that all who believe on Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life. He will give His life a ransom for many,281281 Matt. xx. 28. as the price for the redemption of those souls whom guilt has exposed to punishment. His blood is to be shed for the remission of sin,282282 Matt. xxvi. 28. and to become, by being shed, the blood of the new covenant;283283 Mark xiv. 24; Luke xxii. 20. that is, the blood through which the covenant of perfect union, of true reconciliation between. God and man, receives its formal ratification and consecration. On the other hand, He would equally have His death regarded as the alone means by which true life is begotten in man; His flesh is meat indeed, His blood is drink indeed; and they who feed on Him, who by faith receive Him into their souls, are united to Him, and made partakers of everlasting life.284284 Gal. iii. 28.
It is thus that He who offers a sinless life as a pledge of the truth of His word, expresses Himself concerning the significance 222of His life and death. In His own eyes, His death was undoubtedly the chief means of expiation, reconciliation, and communication of new life; and if He does not call it in so many words an atoning sacrifice, He plainly implies that it is so, while His apostles afterwards decidedly express the fact. In directing our attention to the death of Jesus in this point of view, it cannot, however, enter into our purpose to discuss the act of redemption and atonement thereby accomplished in its full extent.285285 An excellent and full dissertation upon the point which we are now to consider may be found in the Essays of Schöberlein: Ueber die Christliche Versöhnungslehre, Stud. u. Krit. 1845, 2; and Ueber das Verhältniss der persönlichen Gemeinschaft mit Christo zur Erleuchtung, Rechtfertigung, and Heiligung, ditto, 1847, 1; and in a recent and comprehensive article on the doctrine of Redemption in Herzog’s Real Encyclopädie, B. 17, pp. 87-143. On the contrary, we would, in conformity with the course of our argument, bring forward only that which stands in unmistakeable connection with the sinless perfection of Jesus, and the conclusions involved in the very nature of this doctrine. Our subject thus leading us to the significance of the death of Christ, especially as an atoning sacrifice, we shall endeavour, on the one hand, briefly to show that such a significance cannot be conceded to His death unless He is indeed sinless; and, on the other hand, that if He is so, this significance is but the natural consequence of His sinlessness.
Atonement, generally speaking, turns upon the fact that the pure, the innocent, the unpolluted, is given up, is offered to God, in the place of the sinful, guilty, and vile, in order to bring about the deliverance of the latter. It has for its object to restore that relation of man to God which sin had disturbed, and to reconcile the sinner to God; and it takes place where there is a knowledge of sin and of the holiness of God, as well as of the antagonism existing between them, and consequently a felt need of pardon and grace. An approximation to this idea of atonement existed even in some 223heathen religions. But it was in the religion of the Old Covenant that it was first fully apprehended, because here, first, we find a full consciousness of God’s holiness, and of the penal character of sin, as opposed to the Divine law. Here sacrifice had a twofold object: on the one hand, it sought to deepen in the mind of him who offered it the feeling of sin and guilt, and to give a strong expression to that feeling; and, on the other, it furnished a means whereby the offerer might receive an assurance of Divine grace, and be replaced in a right position towards God. In both respects, the fundamental idea is that of substitution. The sacrifice of the animal, in which the worshipper gave up something of his own,—something belonging, as it were, to his own person, placing himself in direct connection with it by laying his hand upon it, and generally slaughtering it himself,—shadowed forth the self-sacrifice of him who offered it; while the death which the animal suffered, represented the death which his sin deserved. Then, as the consequence of his penitence, and by virtue of the promise which was attached to the sacrificial offering, he received the assurance that God accepted the ransom, and now looked upon the sinner with favour.
Now this service of sacrifices, although it unquestionably arose out of a deep religious want, although in itself highly significant and full of meaning, and well adapted to that particular stage of religious development, had, nevertheless, something inadequate about it, and could never thoroughly accomplish that real abolition of sin and implantation of holiness which the nature of the case required. All was symbolic representation, and there was no actual moral transaction. In general, sin was acknowledged to be sinful, but the full extent of its guilt was unperceived. Divine grace was prefigured, but not actually communicated. The relation in which the offerer of the sacrifice stood to the animal he sacrificed, was a voluntary, not a necessary relation; the rite 224was to him an outward event, the sacrifice was not received into his very soul. As the sacrifice offered was an animal which had Indeed, as a thing consecrated to God, a sacred character ascribed to it, but which of course could not be. really holy, there could go forth from it no sanctifying power. Hence, although these sacrifices might for a time calm the sense of guilt, they could not take away sin, and establish in its place a true fellowship with God and a new life. Hence sacrifices of this kind, as has been already shown, could neither powerfully affect the heart, nor continue efficient in all time, but needed to be constantly repeated. They could effect a temporary relaxation of the variance between God and the sinner, but could obtain no eternal redemption.286286 Heb. ix. 12. Now, what could not thus be accomplished—viz. the restoration of a life which should be inwardly reconciled to God, and really free from sin—was performed by Christ. But it was not merely by the abolition of sacrificial worship that Christ accomplished this; it was by realizing in Himself all that had been striven after, but never attained, in sacrifices. The perfect self-surrender of Him, the All-holy, for sinful men, which was the only real and sanctifying sacrifice, whose efficacy should last for ever, came in the place of those merely typical sacrifices which were now to cease, having found their true fulfilment in that great sacrifice.
A free self-sacrifice of this kind necessarily presupposes and is based upon the sinless purity of him who offers it. The very idea of such an offering could have been justifiably conceived only by one who knew himself to be pure and spotless in the sight of God; and such an offering, if made by a really sinless being, could not fail of effecting the purpose contemplated. The sacrifice of Jesus is distinguished from all previous sacrifices chiefly by this, that it was not a representation and foreshadowing, but a real 225moral transaction; it was a free action, of a purely ethical character. Jesus, in whose Person the sacrifice and the priest are one, offered Himself, as the Epistle to the Hebrews expresses it, through the eternal Spirit unto God.287287 Heb. ix. 14. And in this offering of Himself, He preserved the most perfect liberty of action. For however we may regard His death to have been brought about by circumstances, still we must acknowledge that it was by a free decision of His own will that He took it upon Him. Now this act, thus freely determined on, can only be regarded as the result of a will thoroughly pure and unenslaved by sinful love of self; and we must regard this sublime resolve as the culminating action of a life which was itself, from first to last, a perfect sacrifice. But this free self-determination to death can only be viewed as a purely moral action, and free from all tincture of fanaticism, if based upon a full consciousness that this death was necessary to the carrying out of the Divine plan, of salvation, and an indispensable condition of the redemption of man, and the establishment of a kingdom of God upon earth. This consciousness could be possessed only by One who, in virtue of His holiness and His oneness with God, had a clear insight into the whole purpose of God in salvation. Again, Jesus could desire to offer Himself as a sacrifice for sinners, only if He felt that He was pure and stainless; and might therefore regard His offering as a sacrifice well-pleasing to God. It was, in truth, an indispensable condition of the sacrifice that the victim was immaculate, for only such a one could be worthy of God. The physical immaculateness of the animal sacrificed, rises in this personal self-sacrifice of Jesus into moral stainlessness. That He who sought to give Himself as a sacrifice to free the world from sin should have been conscious of being Himself a sinner, or felt Himself to be in any one respect unclean before God, 226would have been not merely a contradiction, it would have been a gross impiety: if, on the other hand, He did not make upon all the impression that He was perfectly sinless, then one might suppose that it was for His own sin, for His own guilt, that He suffered. Only in the case of One who was perfectly free from sin can we feel confident that the suffering which He underwent, however much it may have conduced to His Divine perfecting, was endured not on account of His own guilt, but for the guilt of others.288288 Heb. vii. 26, 27.
The principal thing, however, is that the sinless holiness of Jesus was an essential reason why His free act of self-sacrifice really attained the ends which previous sacrifices had but aimed at: that is, it became the means of imparting a full knowledge of sin, and was itself an actual communication of Divine grace, a substitution in the truest and deepest sense, a real destroying of sin, and a real implanting in its place of a new life of sanctification.
In the first place, it is in the contemplation of the self-immolation of the Holy One, that we come to understand what sin is, in its absolute antagonism to holiness. For in the fact that both love, unreservedly sacrificing itself, and sin, in all its power and malignity, are here exhibited in utmost distinctness and placed in juxtaposition, the true nature of each becomes clearer to us, and even the dullest understanding can appreciate to some extent the vast difference between them. But further, we cannot fail to observe, that the sin which is here brought before us is not sin in its isolated phenomena, but that it is the dominant sin of the race,—that sin which operates as a universal power in humanity, and of which we may trace the workings in ourselves. The Holy One dies, ‘not in a conflict with sin in any special manifestation, but with sin itself,’289289 De Wette, Wesen des christlichen Glaubens, § 57, S. 297. in order to break its 227entire power; and in His death both the power of sin and its opposition to God are exhibited with incomparable distinctness. There is, as has already been shown, no more effectual means of awakening the heart to a knowledge of sin, and a true sorrow for sin, than the life-picture of the Holy One, as it is presented to us in the gospel; but, above all, it is from the contemplation of the Crucified offering Himself for the sins of the world that this benign influence proceeds; and assuredly no one can deny that the consciousness of sin is called forth in a manner infinitely more clear and more intense by the sacrifice of the sinless Christ, than it ever was by former sacrifices. These contained, at most, a general monition against sin; they did not hold up to the soul the mirror of a love freely giving itself up for the sinner to suffering and to death.
But here, too, the positive side is much stronger. All that the sacrifices of the earlier dispensation could accomplish, was to typify and symbolize the Divine grace: but the sacrifice of Jesus actually communicates that grace. For if the sinless One is so united to God that His love is to us a real manifestation of the love of God Himself, and that we must recognise Him to be an impersonation of the Divine love, all this must be most forcibly expressed in that highest act of His life, His free surrender of Himself to death from love to man. In this act we see two things: we see One who has established His claim to be regarded as the Son of God, freely giving Himself up to die; and we see God not sparing His own Son, that He may give Him up to death for the salvation of man. In the sacrificial death of the Holy One we see immediately the reconciled and gracious God, because therein the eternal love of God—that love whose very nature it is to be a sin-forgiving, a saving, a helping love—is not only manifested, but so offered that it may be directly accepted by the sinner. Nor does this love offer itself at the expense of the 228holiness of God: on the contrary, it does so in a manner which alone truly satisfies the claims of that holiness for the sacrifice of the sinless One possesses, in a very different way from the earlier sacrifices, a vicarious significance and a sanctifying efficacy.290290 Compare on this whole subject Rothe’s Ethik (vol. ii. pp. 279-812): Der Erlöser und sein Erlösungswerk.
Against sin itself there can exist in God only a righteous displeasure, fully bent upon its extirpation. To the sinner, as such, He must not be a gracious, but an angry, because a holy God and such does the sinner know Him to be when conscience awakes within him. If God is to bestow His favour upon him, this can only be done on condition that the partition wall of guilt shall be done away with, and the foundation of the sinner’s sanctification at the same time laid. On the other hand, the sinner, too, needs a pledge and assurance of the Divine favour, if he is to have that delight in goodness, and that power to perform it, which lie at the very root of holiness. Thus on both sides a mediation is requisite; and here it is that the holy and sinless One comes in, and is seen living, suffering, and dying, as the sinner’s Substitute. By His unconditional surrender of Himself to God and to mankind, He renders the forgiveness of sin and the bestowal of grace, the restoration and renewal of the sinner, really possible.
There is an essential difference between the one great sacrifice and the previous typical sacrifices. In these, sin was borne, and that but externally, by an unconscious animal, which was itself without the sphere of religion and morality. Jesus, however, moved by compassionate love, consciously and unreservedly entered into the world of sinners, and though Himself untouched by sin, took upon Himself, as an actual member of the same, the sins of all. Then, voluntarily appearing before God with these sins upon Him, He suffered their fearful consequences to fall upon Himself, as though 229He had been the most flagrant of sinners and evil-doers. Thus He fully satisfied the claims of Divine justice against mankind; and by surrendering Himself to death, made an atonement for the sin of all, which sinners themselves were unable to furnish. In this manner was the wall of partition between the holy God and sinful man broken down, and the destroyed relation between them so restored, that the love of God may now be unreservedly bestowed upon man. In the Son, in whom He is well pleased, God looks upon mankind, and beholds first a race restored, and then individuals under a process of restoration. In the holy Son of God, who shed His blood for the forgiveness of sin, the sinner beholds One in whom he possesses the assurance that God is, of a truth, a reconciled and gracious God.
That this is possible, depends again on the nature of the fellowship which is perfectly realized in Christ, and which takes so important a place in His whole work. For as, on the one hand, Christ is so absolutely one with God, that His whole manifestation, especially His death, must be regarded as an actual living manifestation of God Himself, as a God of love; so, on the other hand, He becomes equally one with men, enters into the fullest life-fellowship with them; gives Himself entirely to them, in His love; lives, suffers, and dies, not for Himself, but for them,—not in order to procure some one special benefit, but that He may purchase the salvation of the whole race. And in virtue of this self-devotion, which truly unites Him with humanity, He is no longer to be regarded as a separately existing individual, but as the universal man, as comprehending the whole of humanity in Himself, as its Substitute and Head. In this way, Christ, being one with humanity, communicates to it everything which He Himself possesses. A holy and happy exchange takes place between Christ and man, by which 230He who took upon Him our sin and guilt, and suffered our death, imparts to us His righteousness, His peace, His happiness, and bestows upon us that which He obtained for them.
Doubtless this presupposes something on our side: we must enter into His fellowship, we must by faith lay hold of the salvation offered to us, and thereby become partakers of the reconciling power of His life and death. And here, again, we trace the difference that exists between the old sacrifices, and the one all-efficacious propitiation of Christ. The ante-Christian sacrifices remained without the offerers; and although they doubtless made some impression upon their minds, they were still external to those for whom they were to make an atonement, and could not penetrate into their hearts with quickening and renewing power. The sacrifice of Christ, on the contrary, is from its very nature such, that it cannot remain a merely external, strange, and accidental circumstance, where there is any susceptibility for its reception, but must enter into the soul, and place him who by, faith appropriates it, in a living relation to the object sacrificed. And this is the case, because .this object is a person, and the sacrifice itself the voluntary act of holy love. Hence it is that a stream of love and life goes forth therefrom, that a tie is formed between Him who offers Himself as a sacrifice, and him who appropriates this sacrifice. By this inward personal union it is that strength is imparted to the latter, in virtue of which there is begotten in him, together with an assurance of pardon and reconciliation, the actual beginnings of a new life and of victory over sin.
Viewed thus, the idea of substitution—which, if understood merely in an external and formal sense, is indeed to be rejected as dead and false—becomes something living and true. The connection between Christ and His believing followers is expressed by St. Paul in words of profound 231significance, as ‘being in Christ.’ So close is the living union between the Head and the members, that they form parts of one whole. His fellowship with Christ, from which the Spirit and the life of Christ pass into his soul, makes the believer a partaker in all that Christ Himself is. In this fellowship he learns to know God as a God of grace. In this fellowship, even when it exists only in its early dawnings, he does not stand alone in the sight of God, but is in His sight as one who has been grafted into Christ, and is united by faith with Him. On this account, God can in His love impart to him His grace, even although sin still exists within him, because in his oneness with the sinless Christ the dominion of sin is destroyed, its power is broken, and a hope and a pledge of its ultimate total overthrow are bestowed.
Hence, when it is said that in Christ God is gracious to the sinner, this does not mean that He is so by reason of an arbitrary act of grace, but that He is gracious to the sinner in Christ, because, as soon as a sinner becomes united to Christ, God beholds in him one in whom there is given, not in virtue of his own strength, but in virtue of the operation of Christ in him, a pledge that he will attain to actual freedom from sin.291291 Schleiermacher, der christliche Glaube, ii. 145, § 104. Now if this importance attaches to the sacrifice of Christ, it is apparent how His sacrifice must be regarded as the only sacrifice, offered once for all.292292 Heb. vii. 27, ix. 12, 26-28. It possesses entirely and for ever the power to communicate Divine grace, and to impart the new life. And therefore it is not possible objectively to renew His sacrifice: the only way in which it can be offered again is a subjective one; that is, by such an inward following of the example of Jesus by each believer, that, being thus himself a priest, he may also offer himself to God as a spiritual sacrifice in Christ.
In this sense it is that we recognise in the sinless One the 232only true Mediator between God and man. In Jesus we see Him in whom God is well pleased with man, and turns to him in grace,—Him in whom man may behold with unveiled face, and believingly appropriate this grace, and thus be transfigured into the Divine image. But this naturally involves a further consequence. If Jesus, by His sinless holiness, thus restores the vital fellowship between sinful man and God, He thereby becomes at the same time the author of the true fellowship between man and man, the founder of a kingdom of God, a kingdom of faith, extending far beyond the limits of those circumstances which have hitherto exercised a separating power over mankind; and it is as occupying this no less fundamental position, that we have now to consider Him more closely.
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