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Church Society Trust

 The Principles of Theology - Article 2

by W.H.Griffith Thomas


<< Part 2. The Incarnation Of Christ

Part 3. The Death Of Christ

It is natural that the Article should proceed to state the true idea of the work of Christ in close association with His Person, and the view here taken is in strict harmony with what was taught at and from Chalcedon.

1. The Fact of Christ’s Death. “Who truly suffered.” The emphasis on the reality of the sufferings was doubtless due to the reappearance of Docetic teaching in the sixteenth century, whereby our Lord’s sufferings were regarded as apparent only. Since then Swedenborg taught a very similar doctrine. The true interpretation is that the Person Who suffered is the Son of God, but the Nature in which He suffered is the human nature. We are not saved by the work apart from the Person, but by the Person through the work. The Person gives efficacy to the work. This is the meaning of Hooker’s phrase, “The infinite worth of the Son of God”, and it was this beyond all else that led to the strong insistence in the early Church on the Deity of our Lord, and the real union of God and man in the Incarnation. This, too, as we have seen, is at the heart of the doctrine of the communicatio idiomatum, the prevailing thought being that no one could atone who was not at once perfectly Divine and perfectly human.

2. The Form of Christ’s Death. “Was crucified, dead, and buried.” This reference to the death by crucifixion and the act of burial is in exact agreement with the statement of the Creeds, and, indeed, is intended to express the same truths.

3. The Purpose of Christ’s Death. “To reconcile His Father to us, and to be a sacrifice.” The wording of the Article is sometimes criticised because it is said that reconciliation in the New Testament seems to suggest the manward side only. “Be ye reconciled to God.” This is true, but it presupposes an already existing reconciliation of God to man by the Death of Christ. We shall see later when we study more closely the doctrine of the Atonement that the statement of the Article is intended to express a real and profound Bible truth. Only on one point might the Article be a little more exact. Reconciliation in the New Testament is associated with God, not with the Father, the judicial rather than the paternal relations are involved. Reconciliation is concerned with the Father as God, not with God as Father. In this respect the wording of the Article might have been kept closer to the New Testament, but apart from this verbal inadequacy the truth implied is undoubted and important.

4. The Scope of Christ’s Death. “Not only for original guilt, but also for all actual sins of men.”[1] The phrase, “original guilt”, apparently means the same as “original sin” in Article 9. At any rate, there is no other statement in the Anglican formularies which seems to distinguish between “original sin” and “original guilt”. The Article is thus intended to cover all forms of moral evil, whether those associated with the sin of Adam, or those due to man’s personal action. The Bible clearly distinguishes between “sin” and “sins”, the root and the fruit, the principle and the practice, and the Article teaches that our Lord’s Atonement covers both of these.

These statements of the Article when taken in connection with similar expressions in Articles 15 and 31 give the Anglican doctrine of the Atonement, but it is necessary to pay much closer attention to the subject by reason of its prominence in the New Testament, in the history of Christian thought, and in various theological discussions today.


No one can question the centrality of the Cross in the New Testament. It is admittedly the heart of Christianity.

“The centre of gravity in the New Testament. … Not Bethlehem, but Calvary is the focus of revelation.”[2]

It is obvious that the New Testament connects our salvation with the Death of Christ; indeed, from the standpoint of apologetics Christianity is the only religion with a Cross. Yet few doctrines have given rise to greater differences of opinion. Ever since the days of St. Paul the Cross has been to some people a “stumbling-block”, and to others “foolishness”. But, meanwhile, Christians continue to say and sing: “In the Cross of Christ I glory”. It is essential, therefore, that we should do our utmost to discover, first of all, what the Bible says about the Death of Christ, and then to get behind this and endeavour to find out what it means.

Before looking at the subject in detail it will be well to consider the meaning of the word “Atonement”, and the history of it is the best clue to its use in theology. It was not originally a religious term, and apparently its admission in a theological sense dates from the latter part of the seventeenth century. The Christian idea of the word is thus much more comprehensive than its original scope, and it is in this that the danger of its misuse lies by those who are unable to accept the profound Biblical doctrine which it represents. As early as the thirteenth century there existed in English an adverbial expression, at-one, meaning “agreed”. This phrase was related to the numeral adjective, one, then pronounced as we now pronounce own. From this came the verb, to atone; and at a somewhat earlier date the substantive, atonement, the mediæval form of which was the simple noun, “onement” (pronounced as “own-ment”). About the same time atonemaker was introduced as an Anglo-Saxon equivalent for “mediator”. From examples that can be adduced it is clear that the thought conveyed was simply that of reconciliation. Then at a later date theologically the word came to mean the revealed way of reconciliation with God through the mediation of His Son – a far more extensive idea.[3] In the Authorised Version the term atonement is used of the Levitical sacrifices to translate the Hebrew kippurim (lit. “cover”), and in one passage of the New Testament (A.V.) in the sense of reconciliation, to represent the Greek καταλλαγή (Rom. 5:11). It is, therefore, essential to discover whether the use of the term is intended to represent the Biblical idea of vicarious satisfaction, or merely to designate some thought of reconciliation with God apart from “the blood of the Cross”. Between these two conceptions there is an impassable gulf, and it is necessary to know precisely what we are to understand by the term.

1. The New Testament Revelation.

It is best to start here and to make the approach along three lines.

1. In General. We must first observe the prominence given to the Death of Christ in the New Testament.

(a) In the Gospels attention should be called to the space devoted to the events of the last week of our Lord’s life. Thus taking an ordinary English Bible, St Matthew has one-third devoted to this week, St. Mark over one-third, St. Luke one-fourth, and St. John five-twelfths, or nearly one-half. There must be something in this proportion, or rather disproportion, in view of the fragmentariness of the remainder of the record connected with the three years of our Lord’s ministry.

(b) In the Epistles the prominence is almost equally clear. Thus St. Paul speaks of the Death as “delivered first of all” (1 Cor. 15:3), while the teaching in such doctrinal Epistles as Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians, and 1 Peter is permeated with the truth of the Death of Christ.

(c) In the Apocalypse the central figure almost from first to last is “a Lamb as it had been slain” (Rev. 1:18; 5:6, 12; 12:11; 13:8).

2. In Particular. A careful survey of the words and phrases associated with the Death of Christ is needed at this stage.

(a) There are six terms calling for attention: Sacrifice; Offering; Ransom; Redemption; Propitiation; Reconciliation. (1) Sacrifice, θυσία (1 Cor. 5:7; Eph. 5:2; Heb. 10:12). What is its root idea? According to Robertson Smith[4] it is communion with the Deity, but a more recent authority, who adduces proofs of his contention from life among the Bedouin, maintains that expiation is the primary conception.[5] The latter seems to be decidedly truer to the Biblical conception than the former, and although nothing is actually said about the original meaning of sacrifice, as seen in the earliest records, yet in the light of all that follows in the New Testament, it would seem as though Abel’s sacrifice were best understood as implying sin and redemption in the light of previously given revelation. Certainly the statement that “By faith Abel offered” (Heb. 11:4) seems to imply a prior revelation to which his faith could attend and respond. (2) Offering, προσϕορά (Heb. 10:10, 14). The word is familiar from the LXX rendering of corresponding Hebrew terms. (3) Ransom, λύτρον (Matt. 20:28; 1 Tim. 2:6). Scripture is silent as to Whom the ransom is paid, and only emphasises the worth of that which was thereby given (cf. Rev. 5:9; Gal. 3:13). (4) Redemption, ἀπολύτρωσις (Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14). The original seems to mean “to loose by a price”, while the English, following the Latin, means, “to buy back”, “to re-purchase” (cf. λυτροῡν, 1 Pet. 1:18). The thought appears to be the removal of bondage and thraldom. (5) Propitiation, ἱλασμός, and ἱλάσκεσθαι (Rom. 3:25; 1 John 2:2; 4:10). No word calls for more careful consideration. In propitiation there must be a subject and an object, one who propitiates and one who is propitiated. It is obvious that God cannot thus propitiate man, while man, himself unaided, is unable to propitiate God. The thought of the word is the removal of God’s judicial displeasure and the taking away of an obstacle to fellowship, the removal being accomplished by God Himself. This is clearly the idea of the word in the publican’s prayer, “God be propitious to me the sinner” (Luke 18:13).[6] (6) Reconciliation, καταλλαγή (Rom. 5:10; 2 Cor. 5:18; Eph. 2:16-18). This refers to the adjustment of differences by the removal of enmity and separation. There is practical unanimity among scholars that reconciliation in St. Paul means a change of relation on God’s part towards man, something done by God for man, which has modified what would otherwise have been His attitude to the sinner. Thus, reconciliation is much more than a change of feeling on man’s part towards God, and must imply first of all a change of relation in God towards man. It is this that the Article was intended to express by the phrase, “To reconcile His Father to us”. If it should be said that such a change in God is unthinkable, it may be answered that even in forgiveness, if we are to understand it aright, there must be some change of attitude, for God cannot possibly be in the same attitude before as after forgiveness.

(b) There are three phrases that need to be studied. “Made sin for us” (2 Cor. 5:21); He died “the just for the unjust” (1 Pet. 3:18); “Made a curse for us” (Gal. 3:13). The true and complete meaning of these words must be insisted on.

(c) There are also four prepositions requiring attention: περί, “with reference to”; ὑπέρ,[7] “on behalf of”; διά, “on account of”; ἀντί, “instead of” (Matt. 20:28; 1 Tim. 2:6).[8]

3. Not least of all, consideration must be given to the Biblical doctrine of sin, its nature and effects, and the Divine attitude towards it.

(a) The words used for sin are important, especially ἁμαρτία, “failure”, “coming short”; παράβασις, “transgression”; παράπτωμα, “falling aside”.

(b) The consequences of sin are also clearly taught. They seem to be mainly two. A debt (objective), which requires payment, and a disease (subjective), which requires cure.

(c) The term “Wrath of God”, ὀργὴ θεοῦ (Rom 1:18) must have some meaning, and it seems best to interpret it of God’s judicial displeasure against sin. “This abominable thing that I hate” (Jer. 44:4).

(d) The meaning of Forgiveness, ἄϕεσις, “the sending away” of sin.

2. The Old Testament Anticipation

1. The New Testament points back to the Old, and sacrificial terms of the former find illumination in the ritual of the Old Testament. It must never be forgotten that nearly all the great terms of the New Testament are stated without any explanation, and apart from the Old Testament through the Septuagint they would be unintelligible.[9]

2. The Old Testament sacrifices call for interpretation, for whatever view we hold of the Old Testament they must have had some spiritual meaning. As we contemplate the sacrifices of Genesis, the sacrifice of the Passover, and the various Levitical offerings, they are evidently intended to embody some spiritual reality and to set forth some profound truths.

3. There are several words and phrases in the Old Testament connected with the Atonement, especially a word like kaphar, to cover.

3. The Prayer Book Explanation

We proceed to enquire what use the Prayer Book and Articles make of the Biblical teaching.

1. The Creeds state the fact of the Atonement rather than any theory. They are historical, not theological, and yet even here we are reminded of the uniqueness of the Death of Christ, in that it was “for us men and for our salvation”.

2. In the Collects and Communion Office the devotional aspect of the Atonement is naturally emphasised, but we are reminded of Him “Who made there by His one oblation of Himself once offered, a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world”.

3. In the Articles the subject is dealt with from the doctrinal standpoint, and in particular Articles 2, 3, 15, 28, and 31 give the Anglican view of the Atonement. Special attention should be given to all the phrases as they are set forth in these doctrinal pronouncements. In addition to the statement of the Article now under consideration, we have the following: “Christ died for us” (Article 3); “He came to be the Lamb without spot, Who by sacrifice of Himself once made, should take away the sins of the world” (Article 15); “our Redemption by Christ’s Death” (Article 28); “the offering of Christ once made, is that perfect redemption, propitiation, and satisfaction, for all the sins of the whole world, both original and actual; and there is none other satisfaction for sin, but that alone” (Article 31).

4. The Theological Interpretation

When the subject of the Atonement is considered from the historical standpoint the three eras of Athanasius, Anselm, and the Reformation naturally call for special attention.[10] Athanasius laid great stress on the moral and spiritual renovation, which resulted from the Incarnation of the Son of God in connection with His Death on the Cross. Anselm laid emphasis on the profound truth of the satisfaction offered to God as caused by the outrage of sin. The Reformation naturally dealt with this subject in connection with its emphasis on the work of Christ and the direct application of redemption to the individual soul.[11]

Leaving, however, the historical development of this doctrine, it seems essential to consider it in the light of modern thought, which follows two main lines, subjective and objective. These are the two classes into which all theories of the Atonement can be divided.

A – Subjective

This is concerned with the Atonement as directed towards man, and from this standpoint the work of Christ is to be understood as a revelation of Divine Love to elicit our repentance. In Ritschl the Atonement is a test of fidelity to God; with Bushnell it is expressive of God’s sympathy; in Maurice and Robertson it is indicative of the surrender of Christ; in McLeod Campbell and Moberly the Atonement is regarded as vicarious penitence. Thus, in one way or another, the Atonement is a revelation of truth and of the Divine character as Love, which is intended to overcome the fears of the sinner, to assure him of God’s friendship, and thereby to incite him to rise to a true life.

All this is, of course, so far accurate and helpful, but in itself it is inadequate and therefore unsatisfactory as a full explanation of the Atonement. The illustration has been given of a man throwing himself into the water from a pier to prove his love, but the mere effect of throwing himself into the water without accomplishing a rescue does not seem to be sufficient. The man who rescues another who is drowning at once proves his love and saves the lost. It may also be pointed out that this theory fails to deal with the reality of sin and to justify forgiveness, since evil is passed over and not brought to an end. When a man has gone headlong into sin for years and then sees the horror of it and changes his life, there is still the stain of sin, its effects upon his character, and its results on others. Then, too, the general weakness of this theory is that there is nothing in it to show how those are affected who are unconscious and cannot respond. There are many on whom such a revelation of Divine love cannot possibly make any impression or elicit any response, such as infants, the insane, and the heathen. Are these to be unsaved because they remain consciously uninfluenced?

Of these various interpretations of the moral theory, that of McLeod Campbell and Moberly is at present most prevalent, and it has received additional support through the Essay in Foundations, by Mr. W. H. Moberly, who therein presented afresh his father’s view. It would seem, however, as though the criticism of this interpretation is convincing. Thus, the Archbishop of Armagh, Dr. D’Arcy, has asked how penitence can be vicarious any more than punishment, especially since penitence cannot atone for past sin?[12] Nor does it explain why the quality of penitence should culminate in the act of death. Then, too, it gives no account of the New Testament imagery of Ransom, Propitiation, Redemption, nor does it explain how the soul is enabled to break the power of sin. Dr. Armitage Robinson is of opinion that the use made by this theory of the word “penitence” is at once unreal and unfamiliar.[13] To the same effect are the criticisms of Dr. Denney, who holds that to express the Atonement as penitence is really unthinkable.[14] Indeed, it may be said without much question that such a theory changes the entire meaning of the word “penitence”, and involves an utter contradiction.[15] When Dr. Moberly’s book first appeared a similar criticism was made.[16] Not least of all, this view cannot find any real foundation in the passages of the New Testament dealing with the Atonement.[17]

B – Objective

This is concerned with the Atonement as directed towards God, and the work of Christ is to be understood as a revelation of Divine righteousness and grace to convict and convert. On this view the Atonement includes three great truths.

1. The Manifestation of Divine Character. The Death of Christ is a demonstration of God’s righteousness, God’s holiness, God’s love. Very few modern books give any true consideration to a crucial passage like Rom. 3: 21-26, where the Cross is shown to be the revelation and vindication of righteousness. Pardon, according to the New Testament, is based on justice as well as mercy.[18]

2. The Vindication of Divine Law. Is not Christ’s Death in some way “penal”? Retribution is in the very constitution of the universe, and on this view God in Christ bears the “penalty”. And yet it has been well pointed out that the transference is not of guilt, or of moral turpitude, but simply of legal liability.[19] It is surely in this sense that the Death of Jesus Christ is “vicarious”; otherwise what meaning can be attached to that term? If we are not to be allowed to speak of vicarious punishment, why may we speak of vicarious suffering? What is the precise meaning and value of “vicarious”?

3. The Foundation of Divine Pardon. It is sometimes urged that as human forgiveness does not need an atonement, God’s pardon should be regarded as equally independent of any such sacrifice as is now being considered. But this is to overlook the essential feature of all forgiveness, which means that the one who pardons really accepts the results of the wrong done to him in order that he may exempt the other from any punishment. Thus, as it has been well illustrated, when a man cancels a debt, he, of necessity, loses the amount, and if he pardons an insult or a blow, he accepts in his own person the injury done in either case. So that human pardon may be said to cancel at its own expense any wrong done, and this principle of the innocent suffering for the guilty is the fundamental truth of the Atonement. It is, therefore, urged with great force that every act of forgiveness is really an Act of Atonement, and thus human forgiveness, so far from obviating the necessity of Divine Atonement, really illuminates, vindicates and necessitates the Divine pardon, for “forgiveness is mercy which has first satisfied the principle of justice”. It is on this ground we hold that Christ’s Death made it possible for God to forgive sin. What His justice demanded His love provided. This fact of the Death of Jesus Christ as the foundation of pardon is unchallengeable in the New Testament. Repentance cannot undo the past; it can only affect the future, and any religion which does not begin with deliverance can never be a success as a discipline. Christ spoke of and dealt with the fact of deformity as well as of growth. “That we being delivered … might serve.”[20]

The value of this view is that it keeps close to the New Testament and gives a satisfying explanation of such words as Redemption, Propitiation, Reconciliation, Substitution, Representation, Identification, Satisfaction. It appeals not only to the heart, but also to the conscience, and is based at once on absolute righteousness and on the power of Divine grace to undo sin. This is also in harmony with the deepest needs of human nature.

Thus, the Atonement means that God in the Person of His Eternal Son took upon Himself in vicarious death the sin of the whole world. The offer of mercy is made to everyone, since there is no sinner for whom Christ did not die, and every sin, past, present, and future, is regarded as laid on and borne by Him.[21]

5. Practical Observations

1. The true idea of the Atonement is wide and inclusive, and danger lies in limiting it to one explanation. We need at least the four ideas of the representation of the sinner before God; the substitution of the Saviour for the sinner; the identification of the sinner with his Saviour; and the revelation of God in Christ to the sinner. Thus, if only the objective view is accepted as fundamental, there is no reason whatever why all that is true in the subjective theories should not also be accepted as the natural sequel and consequence. As Priest, Christ is our Representative, but as Sacrifice He is of necessity our Substitute.[22] If, therefore, as Birks points out, sin were only debt, substitution would be all that was necessary, while if sin were only disease, no atonement but only healing would be required.

“A Creed in which there is no substitution and a Creed in which there is nothing but substitution depart equally on opposite sides from the truth of God.”[23]

Three aspects of truth should always be included in the true view of the Atonement: (a) The removal of sin by expiation; (b) the removal of enmity by means of the moral and spiritual dynamic of the indwelling Christ; (c) the provision and guarantee of fellowship with Christ by means of our oneness with Him. Then, too, the word “for”, by reason of its ambiguity, necessarily includes several aspects. (1) It means Representation. This can be illustrated by the position of a Member of Parliament, or an advocate in a court of law. David may be said to have represented Israel in his fight with Goliath (1 Sam. 17), while we read of the elders representing the people (Lev. 4:15), and princes standing for the entire nation (Josh. 9:11). (2) It means Exact Substitution. This is the literal idea of the term “vicarious”, and may be illustrated by the well-known instance of a substitute in military service. Scripture has similar instances of exact substitution, as the ram for Isaac (Gen. 22:13); Judah for Benjamin (Gen. 44:33); the Levites for the first-born (Numb. 3:12); David for Absalom (2 Sam. 18:33); and Paul for Onesimus (Philem. 17). (3) It means Equivalent Substitution. This is to be distinguished from identical or exact substitution, for as it has been illustrated, a man who rescues another from drowning does not substitute himself by being drowned instead, but does what the other is incapable of doing. This is the meaning of the ransom (Lev. 25:47-49), and is illustrated by the payment made for Richard Cœur de Lion in Austria. It is the second of these two ideas of substitution that applies to the Atoning Sacrifice of Christ, and it is obvious that everything depends upon the power of the substitute and the adequacy of his work. No man could accomplish this task; it must be done by someone who is capable of rescuing the whole of humanity, because he himself is more than man.[24]

2. No theory can be satisfactory which does not include and account fully for three factors.

(a) The adequate exegesis of the New Testament teaching both Godward and manward. The true doctrine will never be realised unless it is approached first from the Godward side, as in the New Testament. Every theory must start here or else it will inevitably go wrong. “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself.” The key is found in Rom. 3:25, in which the Divine propitiation is shown to vindicate the Divine righteousness. It is this that warrants the bold and yet true statement that the Atonement was offered by God to God.[25] This is the only feeling that satisfies men who are oppressed with sin. Repentance never suffices. There is always some demand for satisfaction and restitution. Man’s inner sense of rectitude requires that vindication of the Divine law of righteousness be made. Man inevitably feels that God must necessarily demand from Himself that which He requires of man, the vindication of His own righteousness, and the supreme value of the Cross of Christ is that it at once vindicates God’s righteousness, and assures of Divine pardon. It is scarcely possible to exaggerate the importance of insisting upon the fullest, clearest interpretation of all the New Testament passages dealing with the Atonement.[26]

(b) The proper interpretation of the Old Testament sacrificial system. Our familiarity with the New Testament tends to make us forget that sacrificial terms and phrases are stated without explanation, and for these it is essential to go back to the Old Testament.

“The institutions of the Old Testament are to a large extent a dictionary in which I learn the true sense of the language of the New.”[27]

(c) The full meaning of Christian Experience. There can be no doubt that one of the great essentials is a working theory adequate for the experience of ordinary men and women. In all ages the truth that “Jesus died for me” has adequately met and perfectly satisfied the conscience of the sinner, and it will always remain the test of a satisfying doctrine of the Atonement that it meets the demand for peace with God and assures the conscience burdened with sin and guilt.[28] The idea of substitution has given such unfailing comfort that it cannot be regarded as ethically wrong.[29] It is, of course, impossible to explain it fully, and no one really believes that the Death of Jesus Christ was demanded by the anger of God. On the contrary, God gave Jesus Christ because before He gave He loved the world. We cannot help speaking in terms of earthly justice by referring to penalties and satisfaction, but we know that the righteousness of God is not contradictory of, but in full harmony with, His love. Yet Jesus Christ died, the just for the unjust, shedding His blood for the remission of sin, and when conscience is aroused in a man the only antidote to despair is the Cross.[30] To those to whom the use of the word “satisfaction” is objectionable it may be said that so long as the truth enshrined in it is emphasised the word itself counts for very little. “If the disuse of a word would reconcile thoughtful men to the truth intended to be conveyed, one might easily forget it.”[31] All that is desired is that the conscience and heart of a man convicted of sin shall find perfect rest and peace, and apparently this is impossible apart from the acceptance of a Saviour Whose death was at once a vindication of righteousness and a guarantee of pardon. “We cannot in any theology which is duly ethicised dispense with the word ‘satisfaction’.”[32]

3. In view of the difficulties connected with this subject some suggestions may fitly be made.

(a) There are scientific difficulties. With the evolutionary theory of man’s origin and nature there seems to be no room for sin, and therefore there can be no room for the Atonement. It is sometimes said that there is no trace of a Fall in nature, and this is, of course, true of physical nature, and it is not to be expected. But what about moral nature? What of the sense of guilt and responsibility? Surely this is a fact in the moral universe. In a recent work,[33] the author argues that evolution has really emphasised the need of atonement, but he is careful to insist upon the fact that the doctrine of evolution does not admit of any outsider entering in, so that a theory of substitution which seems to require the entrance of such an outsider is rejected. Such a view seems to come under the condemnation already expressed, that “there have been conspicuous examples of essays, and even treatises on the Atonement standing in no discoverable relation to the New Testament”. If, as one critic[34] of this book remarked, human thought is moving in the direction of identification rather than simple substitution, yet since, as he proceeds to say, such identification may undoubtedly involve some form or degree of substitution, the theory of the book will certainly be destroyed. It seems impossible, on any fair statement of the theory of evolution, and on any proper exegesis of the New Testament view of sin and atonement, to explain the Atonement by evolution. Evolution cannot give an ethical basis for a theory of sin, and therefore all definitions of sin furnished by it are at the least defective. Sin concerns the relation of man to God, involving separation from God, and this can never be explained adequately in terms of evolution. It is no case merely of being hindered in upward progress, but, what is much more serious, the consciousness of being alienated from God through sin, for which we are responsible.

Then, too, from a scientific standpoint man’s littleness is used as an argument against the thought of the Son of God coming down to redeem him. It is suggested that for such a speck in the universe it would be unworthy and unthinkable of God so to act, but in reply to this is may be at once said that even in nature the value of things is not judged by their size, and for this reason it is impossible to argue fairly from man’s relative insignificance in the universe. This would apply equally to the conception of any revelation of God quite apart from the thought of Atonement. On every ground, therefore, we maintain the New Testament position, and notwithstanding all scientific theories which seem to run counter to it we must continue to teach the great realities of sin and redemption.

(b) There are theological difficulties. For many years past there has been in certain quarters a tendency to preach mainly about the Incarnation. But this is not the Gospel. In the New Testament the heart of Christianity is found in the grace of Christ, and recent theological thought has been bringing us back to a truer perspective in which we are enabled to see much more clearly than before the centrality of Calvary.[35]

It is also sometimes argued that there is no real reason for the Atonement, since God can hardly be different from man, who is willing to forgive on simple repentance. But we have already seen the essential identity of Divine and human forgiveness, and it may also be answered that the relations between man and man have vital differences compared with those between God and man. In the latter there are governmental as well as personal aspects, and the fact that righteousness is in the very constitution of the universe seems to suggest the impossibility of God overlooking sin, especially with its many and terrible consequences, on the profession of repentance, however genuine.[36]

(c) There are also moral difficulties. The offence of the Cross has not yet ceased, and it is either a “stumbling-block” or “foolishness” to many today. It is possible to preach the Incarnation in such a way as to exalt human nature. It is possible to proclaim the Trinity in a way to interest, and even please, reason. But the preaching of the Cross tends to humble and even humiliate human nature, because it requires submission to a crucified Saviour. And yet it is the Cross which is the Christian Gospel. If it be said that God is Love, and therefore will deal gently with sinners; if it be said that God is merciful, and therefore will show mercy to the wandering; if it be said that God is Father, and therefore will be pitiful to His erring children – the answer is that the facts are true, but the inferences are wrong, because this is not the Gospel. It leaves out Christ. God is Love; God is merciful; God is Father, but not apart from Christ. “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).

Further, this attitude leaves out sin, and yet it is only when we see sin in the light of the Cross that we ever get adequate views of its reality and enormity. If God’s forgiveness can be declared and bestowed apart from the Atonement, we cannot explain Christ’s death at all. Sin is a momentous fact, and Fatherhood is not the only attitude of God to us. He is a Law-giver, Judge, and Ruler, and cannot be indifferent to sin. These elements are all included in the Divine Fatherhood, which is always moral and righteous. The only adjectives used by Jesus Christ of the Father were “holy” and “righteous” (John 17:11, 25). And so it is essential to emphasise the Cross. We must not proclaim the Cross without Christ, the work without the Person; nor must we proclaim Christ without the Cross, the Person without the work; we must not proclaim the substitutionary work without its practical bearing; nor must we proclaim the practical side without the vicarious element. The New Testament teaches the two sides, the objective reality of the vicarious sacrifice and the subjective power in the life of the believer. Christ saves, sanctifies, satisfies.[37]


>>Article 3


[1] The words: “Not only for original guilt, but also for all actual sins of men”, are inserted by the Reformers in their Confession with a deliberate and important purpose, in order to state, in the most comprehensive manner, that, in the words of our Prayer of Consecration, our Lord, ‘by His one oblation of Himself once offered, made a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world’. Nothing more can be required by the divine justice in satisfaction for sin, in addition to that one perfect and sufficient sacrifice of Christ” (Wace, Principles of the Reformation, p. 49 f.).

[2] Denney, The Death of Christ, p. 324 f.

[3] (1) Atone adv., “agreed” (opp. at odds, atwin).
Chaucer, speaking of the patient Griselda in his Clerk’s Tale, says:
“If gentlemen, or other of that contree
Were wroth, she wolde bringen them aton,
So wise and ripe wordes hadde she.”
Again elsewhere:
“After discord they accorded. …
‘Sir,’ saiden they, ‘we ben aton’.” Romaunt of the Rose.
It occurs in this sense in our older versions of the Bible: “After this was God atone with the land” (2 Sam. 21:14; Coverdale, 1535).
“We pray you that ye be atone with God” (2 Cor. 5:20; Geneva Version).
(2) At-one-ment. Hence sprang the word atonement, in the sense of “reconciliation”.
“What atonement is there between light and darkness?” (Philpot, 1554).
“God hath given to us the office to preach the atonement” (2 Cor. 5:18). Tyndale, 1526
“As a perfect sign of your atonement with me, you wish me joy.” Massinger, 1632.
“He was desirous to procure atonement between them and make them good friends (cura reconciliandi eos in gratiam).” Philemon Holland, trans. of Livy (i. 50), 1600.
(3) Atonemaker, i.e. Reconciler.
“There is but one Mediator. By that understand Atonemaker, Peacemaker.” Tyndale, 1533.
(4) To atone (a) prop., to reconcile.
“I was glad I did atone my countryman and you.” Shakespeare, Cymbeline, 1611.
“I would do much to atone them.” Ibid., Othello, 1604.
(b) Later, to appease, satisfy for.
“Mankind thought that the principal thing required of them in religion was to atone and pacify the Divine power.” Owen Pneumatologia, iv, I, 1674.

[4] The Religion of the Semites.

[5] S. I. Curtiss, Primitive Semitic Religion Today.

[6] As a confirmation of this interpretation, it may be pointed out that the Greek Papyri are perfectly clear that the meaning of propitiation was that of an offended God, who needed to be appeased. When this conception is purified of its heathen associations the principle seems obvious that propitiation is something offered by God on man’s behalf to God for the purpose of removing judicial displeasure and hindrances to fellowship.

[7] Sometimes ὑπέρ has a clear substitutionary meaning (John 11:50).

[8] There are two other words not found in the New Testament which are useful for expressing aspects of the Atonement: (1) Expiation, i.e. “cancelling by sacrifice” (cf. 2 Cor. 5:21); (2) Satisfaction, i.e. “restitution for broken law”.

[9] “It stands to reason that to describe the ceremonialism of Judaism, for example, apart from the cardinal doctrines of Christianity is like writing a history of the acorn and saying nothing of the oak to which it grows; it stands to reason that the theologian who defines the Christian doctrine of the Atonement without reference to the expiatory features of Mosaism might as wisely undertake a philosophical biography and ignore the entire story of childhood and the early display of hereditary tendency” (Cave, The Scriptural Doctrine of Sacrifice, Preface).

[10] For the history, see Cave, The Scriptural Doctrine of Sacrifice; Crawford, The Doctrine of the Atonement; Orr, The Progress of Dogma; Mozley, The Doctrine of the Atonement.

[11] Most modern writers criticise with great severity the early idea of a ransom being paid to Satan. It would be well, however, if while rightly criticising and rejecting this view care were taken to disentangle the truth from the error, and to endeavour to discover the profound reality intended by the conception. It may fairly be argued that the great minds who occupied themselves with this thought were not wholly ignorant of some of the modern implications. A book that endeavours to do justice to this thought, while rightly indicating the error associated with it, is Dimock’s The Death of Christ.

[12] D’Arcy, Christianity and the Supernatural, p. 80.

[13] “Does not penitence, we are bound to ask, involve as an indispensable element, self-blame, and not merely the sense of shame? Must not its language be, ‘We have sinned … of our own fault’? Love’s self-identification with the sinner may go as far as the sense of shame, on the ground of physical relationship (as of mother and child) or of deeply affectionate friendship. It may go as far as self-blame without losing touch with reality, if it is conscious that further effort on its part might have prevented the shameful issue. But can self-blame be genuine where ex hypothesi there has been no responsibility for the sin?” (Journal of Theological Studies, January 1913).

[14] “No rhapsodies about love, and no dialectical juggling, will ever make this anything but a contradiction in terms. It is a thoroughly false way of describing a familiar fact, which has, no doubt, its significance for the Atonement, though it does not exhaust it. … resolved the Atonement into ‘a perfect lesson in humanity to the judgment of God on the sin of man’; a response to God which has in it ‘all the elements of a perfect repentance – a perfect sorrow – a perfect contrition – all excepting the personal consciousness of sin’. The exception, it may be said, destroys the theory” (British Weekly).

[15] “The theory – unless the whole meaning of the word penitence is altered – is a contradiction in terms. An infinite repentance is performed to avert an infinite penitence. The repentance is for human sin. The repentance is by Him who knew no sin. The guilt is incurred by the human race, and the availing repentance takes place in the guiltless Jesus. How can this be? What element of penitence can enter into the mind of One who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth? One of the most extraordinary passages in theology is that of Mcleod Campbell, when he says that our Lord’s mind had ‘all the elements of a perfect repentance in humanity, for all the sin of man – a perfect sorrow – a perfect contrition – all the elements of such a repentance, and that in absolute perfection – all excepting the personal consciousness of sin’. Need we point out that the exception is the very essence of the whole? Where there is no personal consciousness of sin, penitence is impossible. Contrition is the sign of an inner change from evil to good. How can such a change take place in the Eternal Son?” (Church Family Newspaper).

[16] H. G. Grey, Introduction to Dimock, The Death of Christ (Second Edition); Clow, The Cross in Christian Experience (p. 319): “Moberly calls the Incarnation the crucial doctrine. Mark how he gives his case away even in his adjective.”

[17] The most recent searching and conclusive criticism of this view, while preserving all its truly valuable features, is “The Vicarious Penitence of Christ”, by Dr. H. R. Mackintosh in The Expositor, Eighth Series, Vol. 11, p. 81 (February 1916).

[18] One of the most useful books discussing the legal aspects of the Atonement is Law and the Cross, by Dr. C. F. Creighton. The value of the book is largely due to the fact that it consists of Addresses to Lawyers, Students, and Professors, at College and Law Schools (Eaton & Mains, New York).

[19] Bruce, The Humiliation of Christ, p. 316.

[20] In various forms this is the essential view of Dale, Denney, Forsyth, and Simpson.

[21] “This, then, is the New Testament doctrine of Atonement, that He whose office it had ever been to reveal the mind of the Father, and who had assumed human form, having passed through this mortal life without sin, and being, therefore, non-amenable to any penalty decreed upon transgression, had voluntarily submitted to that curse of death, with all its mystery of meaning, including the sense of the Divine withdrawal, which He had Himself announced and that submission rendered the forgiveness of sins possible to man” (Cave, ut supra, p. 324).

[22] Bruce, ut supra, p. 307.

[23] T. R. Birks, Difficulties of Belief, pp. 176, 179.

[24] For a fuller treatment of these various aspects see Girdlestone, The Faith of the Centuries, pp. 200-202.

[25] By Forsyth. See his books, passim.

[26] “There have been conspicuous examples of essays and even treatises on the Atonement standing in no discoverable relation to the New Testament” (Denney, The Death of Christ, Preface).
“One may, or may not accept the teaching of the New Testament, but it is at any rate due to intellectual honesty to recognise what that teaching is” (Law, The Tests of Life, p. 163).
“We must find a theory that will harmonise with everything that comes under New Testament authority” (Creighton, Law and the Cross, p. 25).

[27] Dale, Jewish Temple and Christian Church, p. 146.

[28] “This, therefore, must be the test of a satisfactory doctrine of atonement still, viz. its power to sustain the consciousness of peace with God under the heaviest strain which can be put  upon it from the sense of guilt, and of the condition which guilt entails” (Orr, The Progress of Dogma, p. 235).
Explain it how you will, it yet remains true, and while human nature continues what it is it will always remain true, that no religion will satisfy the heart of man which does not turn upon the presentation of an offering for sin” (Simpson, Christus Crucifixus, p. 207).

[29] “Even if the doctrine of penal substitution be regarded as only one among several possible theories, we cannot but appreciate the intensity of the moral earnestness which it presupposed, and also its singular adaptation to meet a deep religious need. It has been criticised as unethical; but it may be doubted if a more splendid tribute was ever paid to the dignity and the claims of the moral law than in the conception that sin is so awful an evil and so shameful a scandal, and that it so entirely merits the extremity of punishment, that it was impossible for God to forgive it in the exercise of a paternal indulgence – that, on the contrary, mercy could only come into play when the appalling guilt had been expiated in the death of the Son of God, who was also the representative of mankind. Regarded merely as a measure of the conception formed of the heinousness of sin, it has no parallel in point of moral earnestness in the speculative thinking of the schools. It is no less obvious that it met an intellectual need of the religious life. We feel more sure of the Divine mercy if we think that we perceive the grounds on which God acted, and by which He was enabled to act, in the dispensation of mercy. The believing soul feels more sure that God forgives for Christ’s sake. … There is no theory which is so intelligible as the theory of penal substitution; and there is no religious message which has brought the same peace and solace to those who have realised the sinfulness of sin, and the menace of the retributive forces of the Divine government, as the conception that the penalty due to sin was borne by the crucified Saviour, and that the guilty may be covered by the robe of His imputed righteousness” (Paterson, The Rule of Faith, p. 285 f.).

[30] A striking testimony to this fact of experience, that a man’s conscience when awakened cannot accept God’s love without atonement, will be found in Falconer, The Unfinished Symphony, telling of a conversation with the late Professor Pfleiderer, who asked for an actual instance. On one being given, Pfleiderer replied: “If a doctrine really meets a deep human need it must be true” (pp. 243-245).

[31] Bruce, ut supra, p. 316.

[32] Forsyth, The Cruciality of the Cross, p. 214.

[33] Stuart McDowall, Evolution of Atonement, with Preface by Bishop H. E. Ryle, Dean of Westminster.

[34] Dr. Hastings in Expository Times.

[35] It is the supreme merit of Denney, Forsyth, and Simpson that they are recalling thought to the right direction. And the recent little volume by Mozley confirms this general line and justifies what the author said a few years ago:
“It cannot be said too often that the Cross, not the manger, Calvary, not Bethlehem, is the heart of the New Testament. In England the influence of Dr. Westcott, from Cambridge, and of the Anglo-Catholic successors of the Tractarians, from Oxford, combined, has tended in the opposite direction. In the writer’s judgment it is a perilous course to throw the doctrine of propitiatory atonement to the wolves of Rationalism, while yet believing that the Incarnation can be preserved in its integrity; and it is a course against which the New Testament, as he reads it, stands opposed” (Mozley, Review in Record).

[36] Mabie, Under the Redeeming Ægis, passim.

[37] “There is little doubt that the sympathetic tendency is the more popular today, and to press salvation in a real sense is to be accused of a reactionary bias to theology. But a God who is merely or mainly sympathetic is not the Christian God. The Father of an infinite benediction is not the Father of an Infinite Grace” (Forsyth, ut supra, p. 58).
“If we spoke less about God’s love and more about His holiness, more about His judgment, we should say much more when we did speak of His love. … It is round this sanctuary that the great camp is set and the great battle really waged. Questions about immanence may concern philosophers, and questions about miracles may agitate physicists. But the great dividing issue for the soul is neither the Bethlehem cradle, nor the empty grave, nor the Bible, nor the social question. For the Church at least (however it may be with individuals), it is the question of a redeeming atonement. It is here that the evangelical issue lies” (Forsyth, ut supra, p. 73).

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