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See a searching examination of Ritschl’s doctrine on this subject in Dorner’s System of Doctrine, iv. pp. 60–72 (Eng. trans.). Cf. also Pfleiderer’s Die Ritschl’sche Theologie, pp. 63, 69, 70; Bertrand’s Une nouvelle Conception de la Redemption, pp. 256–273; Stahlin’s Kant, Lotze, und Ritschl, pp. 210–212, 227.

All these writers agree that the logical effect of Ritschl’s doctrine is to reduce guilt to a subjective illusion. This is borne out by the following particulars of his system:—

1. By the denial to God of everything of the nature of punitive justice. In so far as the sinner’s guilty fears lead him to represent God as angry with him, or as visiting him with punishment, he is tormenting himself with needless apprehensions. Punitive justice is a conception borrowed from the sphere of civil right, and has no application in the sphere of the Divine. He teaches expressly that “external evils can only be reckoned as Divine punishments from the point of view of the subjective consciousness of guilt.”—Recht. und Ver. iii pp. 346.

2. By his doctrine of reconciliation. Reconciliation is defined as the removal of the separation which has come to exist between man and God in consequence of sin; and as it is the consciousness of guilt which keeps sinners far from God, pardon consists essentially in the removal of this guilt—consciousness (iii. p. 52). But this is not to be understood as if in this removal of guilt anything objective took p lace. Rather Christ’s work was, as Dorner expresses it, “to reveal God to us as fatherly love, and scatter the gloomy terrors of an angry God and a punitive justice”; “to give deliverance from these erroneous notions of God’s retributive and specially punitive.justice, which interfere with Divine communion.”—System of Doctrine, iv. p. 71.

3. The doctrine of guilt is attenuated on another side by Ritschl’s view that all existing sin is sin committed in ignorance. It is on this ground that he declares it pardonable. But here again pardon does not mean the laying aside of any real displeasure on the part of God, but solely the removal of the sinner’s (groundless) guilty fears. The one sin which Ritschl exempts from pardon is that of definitive unbelief—a problematical transgression which he thinks we have no reason to suppose ever existed. Here Ritschl’s doctrine falls into an obvious inconsistency. He holds that if such a sin did exist, the one way the Divine Being could deal with it would be by annihilating the sinner. But surely this would be an exercise of punitive justice, if anything is; yet Ritschl denies that punitive justice resides at all in God. On the whole, there is good ground for Dorner’s charge, that “no clear, connected doctrine respecting punishment, God’s punitive justice, moral freedom, and guilt, is to be found in Ritschl” (iv. p. 67).

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