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Sacrifice (2)

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

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SACRIFICE.—The saving significance of the death of Jesus Christ is of necessity the most important part of any article on the NT idea of sacrifice; for it is in the light of the sacrifice of Christ that all Christian sacrifice must be viewed.

It is now universally admitted that there is development and difference in the doctrinal standpoint of the NT writers. The old method of taking texts at haphazard from the various Gospels and Epistles, and setting them side by side, has been given up. The only satisfactory results are to be obtained by examining in turn the teaching of each writer; and this is the method which it is proposed to adopt in considering the subject of the sacrifice of Christ.

1. We begin with the teaching of our Lord as set forth in the Synoptic Gospels. Here there is nothing to be found in the nature of dogmatic assertion. The statements of our Lord as to the significance of His death are far from numerous, and in no case can they be looked at wholly by themselves. His whole life and teaching is their context. To any one carefully reading the Synoptic Gospels it becomes plain that it is only towards the end of His life on earth that the meaning of His death begins to occupy anything like a prominent place in the consciousness of Christ. There is not a single word regarding it in the Sermon on the Mount. There He is the second Moses, the new Lawgiver, the Revealer of the Father and His will, the Preacher of that new Kingdom whose laws should be written upon the hearts of men. Man is to be transformed inwardly by the renewal of his mind as leaven works in dough. All external religious practices are valueless except in so far as they manifest inward spiritual life. But it is already a Father of infinite tenderness and love, a Father only waiting to be gracious, whom He reveals, not a God full of wrath against sinful man, who must be propitiated and reconciled by the death of His Son before He can pardon. Forgiveness is already offered to all who will do the Father’s will, to all who in love forgive the trespasses of their brethren. There is not one word to suggest that pardon and reconciliation are conditional upon the sacrifice of Himself still to be offered. Here Christ is the Teacher of morality, with an authority greater than that of Moses, it is true; but He has not yet revealed Himself as the Way and the Truth and the Life. He is implicitly the Saviour in that His Person and work are alone the guarantee of the will of the Father, in that He embodies the attractive power of righteousness, in that He is the source of healing grace to all afflicted ones who come with faith in Him; but He has not yet made surrender to Himself the only way of salvation. It is only in consequence of the opposition of His countrymen that He gives expression to the thought that He is Himself the Mediator of salvation, the only Revealer of God (Matthew 11:25-30). He realizes that it is offence at His humility and lowliness that keeps ‘the wise and prudent’ from hearing His word, and that it is love to Him that draws the poor and despised and sin-laden to the knowledge of the Father and the doing of His will. From that time the thought that He is the personal Mediator is frequently upon His lips (Matthew 10:40; Matthew 12:30; Matthew 18:20, Luke 12:8 etc.). It is opposition, too, that arouses in Him the consciousness of being the Conqueror and Dethroner of Satan and all the powers of darkness (Matthew 12:29, Mark 3:27, Luke 10:18-19; Luke 11:21). As time goes on, this opposition develops into a bitter hatred which threatens His life. Selfishness and world-love array themselves against Him and His doctrine of world-renunciation. His power is too great to be overlooked. The world-spirit which dominates the bulk of His countrymen demands His death; and even His most faithful followers are still enslaved by the world’s toils—bound to earth by that material glory which, according to their selfish hopes, His Messiahship is to procure for them. While He lives, they will still buoy themselves up with false hopes: they will not understand the pure spirituality of His life and work—that His ‘kingdom is not of this world.’ The perception of these dangers, then—of that which from the outside threatened His life, of that which from within threatened the purity of His disciples’ faith—became to Him a further revelation of the Father’s will,—a revelation that His death was decreed, and that by it He should accomplish that for which His whole life had been but the preparation. But we must not expect many explicit statements on the subject. His followers were not yet fit to bear this truth. He was leaving this to be made plain to them by the Holy Spirit after Hisdeparture. Yet there are hints enough to lead us to a right understanding. ‘I have a baptism to be baptized with,’ He says on one occasion, ‘and how am I straitened till it be accomplished!’ (Luke 12:49-50). Manifestly the baptism was the baptism of death (cf. Matthew 20:22-28). In Matthew 20:28 the reason for the necessity of His death is made plain—‘to give his life a ransom for many.’ The idea clearly is that men are enslaved, and that Christ gives His life to set them free; but the question still remains as to the nature of the bondage. ‘From death, from the guilt of sin and its punishment,’ says the old theology, or, as it is sometimes expressed, ‘from the wrath of God.’ But there is not a single word upon the lips of Christ to justify this interpretation; and, as we shall see later, wherever in the NT the death of Christ is called a deliverance or a ransom, it is always a being purchased for God, a being delivered from the bondage of sin to serve God, that is thought of (Romans 6:1-11, 1 Corinthians 6:20; 1 Corinthians 7:23, 1 Peter 1:18 ff. etc.). Moreover, the whole mission of our Lord and the whole meaning of His teaching was to deliver man from sin, to make him love, and long for, righteousness. It is impossible to imagine the Preacher of the Sermon on the Mount accounting it the great work of His life merely to deliver men from the consequences of their sins. Can any one believe that such a Moralist would be content with less than the deliverance from sin itself, the worst bondage of all to which man is subject? The context of the words, too (Matthew 20:17-29), must lead us to the same conclusion. There is no thought of death or even of guilt; but there is a thought of sin—of the sin of self-seeking, bound up as it was with the expectation of material glory in an earthly kingdom, which had just prompted the request of James and John, and of the selfish indignation of the other disciples who resented that request as an attempt to obtain an unfair advantage over them. That Christ should think of His coming death as certain to break for ever the cords of their worldliness, so that their love for Him might draw them away from the world unto righteousness and God, is perfectly conceivable. His cross, borne for love’s sake as the last step in the path of perfect holiness which He was called to tread, must for all time crucify the world unto all who truly believed in Him, and them unto the world. To imagine that Christ in these words represents the Father as requiring a ransom at His hands before He can forgive mankind, is to render His revelation of the Heavenly Father wholly inconsistent, is to give the lie to all His earlier words regarding the mercy and compassion of God. The parable of the Prodigal Son in the light of this later presentation becomes an impossibility.

But let us proceed to the institution of the Lord’s Supper, whence the most definite teaching as to the saving import of His death is to be drawn (Matthew 26:26-28, Mark 14:22-24, Luke 22:19-20). Here He speaks of the surrender of His life as a thing advantageous to those who believe on Him, and St. Matthew adds the words—‘for the remission of sins.’ In the Sacrament thus instituted there is a twofold reference to the ritual of the Jews—(1) to the Passover, in the breaking of bread, the symbol of His broken body; (2) to the sacrifice of the covenant at Sinai, to which the giving of the cup with the words—‘This is my blood of the new covenant’ clearly alludes. Now the Passover signified exemption from the death of the firstborn which overtook the Egyptians. By the death of the lamb, which the Israelites appropriated to themselves by eating it, forgiveness and life were granted to them. But the Passover meant more than this. It brought them freedom not only from death, but also from bondage. It transformed a multitude of slaves into a free nation; it made them God’s people; and sent them forth to serve Him. Its aim was the service of God. Our Lord, then, in the institution of the bread expressed the thought that His life given up to death is to be appropriated by His followers, that it may become their life, that it may set them free from the bondage of sin, and make them free servants and sons of God. This, too, must be noted, that it is not the fact of His death in itself that is significant. Had He thought of abiding in death, the whole meaning of the institution would have been taken away. The idea is that He surrenders His physical life for their sakes, that His spiritual life may dwell in and inspire them. In the closing chapters of St. John’s Gospel this thought is most clearly expressed. As to the institution of the cup and its reference to the ratification of the Sinaitic covenant, the idea here is that of purification on entering into communion with God. In Exodus 24 the sprinkling of the blood is the completion of the covenant already made: it symbolizes the need of purity in those who would obey God. Just as the baptism of John was valueless without change of mind, and could confer no forgiveness without the bringing forth of fruit worthy of repentance, so the sprinkling of the blood expressed the thought that purity and sincerity are necessary for all who would enter into the covenant relationship with God—that there can be no forgiveness except it be followed by sincere obedience. There is further present to the mind of our Lord the prophecy of Jeremiah regarding the New Covenant (or Testament) (Jeremiah 31:31-34) which should be an inward relationship, a covenant of regeneration—‘I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it on their hearts.’ In this covenant forgiveness was to be granted in consequence of an internal reformation (Jeremiah 31:34). When the power of sin is broken and cast out, when the heart is dead to sin, God is just to pardon. Thus Christ called His blood about to be shed the blood of the New Covenant, in the sense that His death of love would inspire His followers with new life, would be to them in the first place a means of breaking the power of sin in their lives, of recreating them in the love of holiness, and only in consequence of that an assurance of pardon. The saving significance of the death of Christ, then, as it is set forth in the Lord’s Supper, is this—to create in the believer a new power of spiritual life which should make sin hateful and so destroy its bondage, and to assure him of pardon by the guarantee of God’s perfect love as revealed in the life and death of His Son. Christ’s death is a sacrifice in that it removes for ever all doubt of God’s forgiving love, and makes man’s willing, loving obedience possible; in that it proves the absolute victory of good over evil; and, lifting His life beyond the limits of time and space, makes it a spiritual force communicable to all who accept Him as their Saviour.

2. When we turn to the Gospel of St. John, we find at once much to confirm the hints which the Synoptics have already given us. He wrote long after the departure of his Lord, and his experience and spiritual insight had made clear to him the meaning of many words that had been dark to the earlier writers. In the teaching of Jesus as St. John presents it, the thought of His death as setting free a spiritual life-giving principle emerges with much greater distinctness. He is the Bread of Life, the Living Water, that giveth life to men (John 6:1-71; John 7:37-38; John 3:10-15); He is the Resurrection and the Life (John 11:25); but that this πνεῦμα ζωοποιοῦν may act with completed power, it must pass through death to larger life. ‘Except a coin of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone,’ etc. (John 12:24). ‘It is expedient for you that I go away; for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come to you,’ etc. (John 16:7). But the death itself has a value apart from the resurrection, for in it is revealed the triumph of holy love over the power of evil: it is the means whereby the Father glorifies the Son (John 12:27-28, John 13:31-32). All men are subject to this power save Jesus only; and the power of evil is broken through His meek submission to that death which the evil world forces upon Him (John 12:31). The spirit of selfishness no longer rules the earth when its utmost wickedness is outdone by the obedience of perfect love even unto death. This power of overcoming the world and its spirit, He will communicate to those who follow Him. He will draw all men unto Him when He is lifted up (John 12:32, cf. John 16:33). The cleansing power of His death, which in the Synoptics is symbolized by the institution of the Supper, here finds its place in the washing of the disciples’ feet (John 13:2-17). They were already clean by the word which He had spoken unto them (John 15:3): the death was but the completion, the final cleansing. According to St. John, then, the efficacy of the sacrifice of Christ lay in this—that it was an act of perfect obedience to the will of the righteous Father (John 14:31) and of love to the world (John 10:11, John 15:13),—an example, therefore, and an inspiration; but also that it broke the power of sin, and, through the glorified life which of necessity followed it, became a means of spiritual energizing and sanctification to all believers. Once again there is no word to suggest the judicial theory of satisfaction.

3. Proceeding now to the Acts of the Apostles and to the Epistle of James, we are met by this remarkable fact, that in neither is there a single reference to the saving significance of the death of Christ. The accusation of having put the Holy One to death is brought home most forcibly in the speeches of Peter and Stephen (Acts 2:23; Acts 3:13-15; Acts 7:52); but the Cross is not once spoken of as necessary to salvation. Repentance and conversion are alone mentioned as essential to forgiveness; and even when (Acts 8:28 ff.) Philip overhears the Ethiopian reading the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah and interprets it for him, though this chapter above all others seems to speak of Messiah’s vicarious suffering and death, the all-important passage—‘He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities,’ etc. (Acts 8:5), is not even quoted. The natural conclusion is that the sacrificial significance of Christ’s death, so far from having been a cardinal doctrine of the Church from the outset, had not yet dawned upon the disciples’ minds. The glad facts of the Resurrection and Ascension, with all of spiritual quickening that these had brought them, were the all-important things to them. The death, except in so far as it was the passage to this larger life, was still obscure. They had no thought that Christ’s sacrifice alone procured their pardon; for if they had, they could not possibly have kept silence regarding it. It was the Resurrection they preached, not the Cross (Acts 3:13-16; Acts 10:40-41).

4. When we turn to the First Epistle of St. Peter, we find a marked advance upon this early preaching. The Apostle explains the death of the Lord as an example, as a power of redemption, and as a deliverance from the sense of guilt. But throughout, this development is on the lines of Christ’s own teaching. He does not speak a word to which a parallel could not be found in the Gospels. As the Lord told His disciples that the world would treat them as it treated Him, so St. Peter bids his readers follow in the steps of Christ; ‘for this is thankworthy,’ he says, ‘if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully.’ ‘If, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God’ (1 Peter 2:19-20; cf. 1 Peter 3:17; 1 Peter 4:1). Here he inculcates a sacrifice on the part of believers similar to the sacrifice of Christ, and asserts its acceptance in God’s sight. Of the redemptive power of Christ’s sacrifice he speaks in 1 Peter 1:18-22, 1 Peter 2:21; 1 Peter 2:24, 1 Peter 3:18; and in each of these it is redemption from sin’s bondage that is thought of, with the end in view of service to God. Forgiveness is never thought of by itself as a consequence of the death of the Saviour, but always in connexion with sanctification, its end and aim. Believers are redeemed from their vain conversation by the blood of the Lamb, that they may purify their souls in obeying the truth. He bears their sins that they should live unto righteousness. He suffered for sins to bring them to God. Christ’s death is only for those who let it act upon them. It is not a satisfaction of God that removes for ever the guilt of men by bearing their penalty: it is a moral deliverance: it is the impression which it creates upon the hearts of believers that is the delivering power—a power increased and fulfilled by the influence of the quickening Spirit (1 Peter 1:22). In 1 Peter 4:1 St. Peter says, ‘He that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin.’ By following Christ’s example men are to be delivered. Just as the suffering of a mother for her erring son becomes to that son redemption,—a force to make sin hateful in his eyes,—so the picture of Christ’s suffering for us acts upon our hearts; and our imitation of Him, our suffering borne for righteousness’ sake, breaks the will of the flesh, so that in St. Paul’s words we die to sin and live to God. That Christ ‘suffered once for sin, the just for the unjust’ (1 Peter 3:18), means simply that human sin brought Him to death, a death which love and righteousness compelled Him to bear for our sakes, and that the spectacle of that Divine transcendent love becomes to all believers a power of regeneration. But, further, it is also a pledge of Divine forgiveness. In 1 Peter 1:2 he mentions the ‘sprinkling of the blood of Christ’ along with obedience and sanctification of the Spirit, and by it he can mean only the remission of sins—the removal of the sense of guilt. Moreover, in 1 Peter 1:18-21 he speaks of the shedding of the blood of the Lamb as having for one object ‘that your faith and hope may be in God.’ What can this mean but that the love of the Father manifested in the death of His Son is to be to believers a means of breaking down the barrier which the sense of guilt had erected between them and God? It shows the Father ready to forgive and draw men unto Him (1 Peter 3:18). To get rid of sin and to be assured of pardon are the two essentials to salvation, which by His death Christ has procured, but He has procured them only for those who make Christ their example by suffering Him to write God’s law upon their hearts—who appropriate God’s life unto themselves.

5. It is in the writings of St. Paul, however, that the Cross of Christ attains its pre-eminent position. The whole gospel is to him the preaching of the Cross. ‘Christ and him crucified’ is the subject of all his teaching. Yet the emphasis be lays on it is never one-sided; for the death of Christ is but the consummation of His holy life of Divine love, and at the same time the prelude to the fuller life of glory beyond; both of which are essential to the meaning and value of the sacrifice. Nor is it that the mind of the Pharisaic Saul has led him to the contemplation of the Cross because of his close study of the OT ritual. It is his own personal experience of salvation that has caused him to understand—the marvellous change wrought in him by the Lord who appeared to him on the road to Damascus, and which lie has expressed in the words, ‘I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me’ (Galatians 2:20; cf. Galatians 6:14).

It certainly cannot be denied that in many passages the Apostle speaks of the death of Jesus as a means of deliverance from guilt, or of justification (Romans 3:25-26, 2 Corinthians 5:21, Galatians 3:13, Colossians 2:14 etc.); and in the Epistle to the Romans the first place is certainly given to this doctrine; but justification is always conditioned by faith; Christ is never represented as reconciling God to us, but contrariwise, God through Christ reconciles the world to Himself; even our faith in Christ is useless except Christ be risen (1 Corinthians 15:17), i.e. except He be in us a living power to lead to sanctification; and Christ is never said to die ἀντί, but always ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν; all of which facts are radically opposed to the theory of legal substitution. But, most important of all, guilt is no more than sin’s consequence, and we cannot conceive of St. Paul, who above all others understood the meaning of sin’s bondage, ascribing to Christ a mere redemption from sin’s consequences and not from sin itself. The Apostle, however, speaks for himself. It was, he says, to deliver us from the evil world, it was that we should live together with Him, it was that men should not henceforth serve sin, that Christ died (Galatians 1:6, 1 Thessalonians 5:10, Romans 6:6). The whole sixth chapter of Romans is on this theme—death to sin in Christ; and the seventh expresses the same thing in reference to the Law. The death of Christ is in his view, then, the direct cause of our death to sin, the breaking of sin’s bondage, the putting off the sensuous selfish nature, the subjugation of its desires and appetites (Colossians 2:11, Romans 3:24; Romans 6:3-4; Romans 7:4); and this is the first step to the energizing of the life-giving Spirit of the glorified Lord within us. The passage in 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 seems to express St. Paul’s view with perfect clearness. Here we are told that it is the love of Christ that constraineth—that makes the death of the One a means of death to sin in all. It is as the Lord of humanity, the spiritual Head, spiritually related to all, that He dies; but He rose again and lives now, so that all who recognize the relationship are compelled, by the love which His perfect sacrifice excites, to break for ever with sin—sin which slew Him—and to live henceforth His life, the life of love and righteousness (cf. Romans 6:10-11; Romans 5:19; Galatians 2:19-20). It is not, however, the love of Christ only that is manifested by His death, but also that of the Father. ‘God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us’ (Romans 5:8; Romans 5:10). The attitude of the fleshly mind is enmity against God (Romans 8:7). Men are rebels towards Him. It is the sense of guilt that keeps them from Him. They cannot even believe it possible that God can pardon. It is this, then, that God seeks to remove by the death of His Son. He gives an infinite pledge of His desire to forgive (2 Corinthians 5:19). Yet it still remains true that this pledge is not the actual justification of the sinner. He must accept God’s offer; he must allow God’s love to enter his heart; and that means death to sin, and makes him a new creature (2 Corinthians 5:17). Sanctification in principle is his from that moment. Thenceforth he lives spiritually—lives to God. In St. Paul, too, we find that aspect of Christ’s death as a conquest of evil, an objective breaking of the power of sin, of which we have already spoken. He speaks of Christ coming in the likeness of sinful flesh and condemning sin in the flesh (Romans 8:3). By this he means that Christ’s death was the completion of a life of righteousness, and the final act of triumph over evil. He condemned sin in that He resisted it all His life, and in the end gave His life to that resistance. He submitted to the shameful death of the Cross, because to that the path of Divine righteousness led Him. It is for this reason that there is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). In Him they spiritually delight in the law of God; by their love to Him and life in Him they, too, condemn sin; and ‘the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made them free from the law of sin and death’ (Romans 8:2). It is in the same manner that the Apostle represents the death of Christ as a ‘propitiation through faith in his blood’ (Romans 3:25). It is not a propitiation to God in the sense that it hides sin from His eyes, but in that Christ’s sacrifice contains the power of breaking sin in all who accept Him by faith. God is Justin forgiving the sin of the believer, because Christ’s victory is the guarantee of ultimate victory to all who live in Him (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:21 and 1 Corinthians 5:7). Finally, the importance which St. Paul attaches to the resurrection of Christ enforces all that has been said. Without that fact his whole doctrine of the scheme of salvation would fall to pieces (1 Corinthians 15:17). It is not even the death of Christ, but only the risen Saviour that justifies (Romans 4:25). It is in Christ—therefore in a Christ who lives—that justification is obtained (2 Corinthians 5:21, Ephesians 1:7), and that sanctification is rendered possible (Romans 5:10; Romans 8:34; Romans 14:9, 2 Corinthians 3:17-18, Galatians 2:20). It is only because the believer is in living union with the holy Lord that God can justify him; for the union and communion are the guarantee that the work of sanctification begun will be carried to completion, that the believer will be conformed in all things to his Redeemer. To have Christ dwell in our hearts by faith, to be rooted and grounded in love, to know the love of Christ, is to be filled with the fulness of God (Ephesians 3:17-19). If the old view of legal satisfaction through the sufferings of Christ be accepted, all this becomes absurd.

6. We now come to the Epistle to the Hebrews, which, more than any other NT writing, relates the sacrifice of Christ to those of the Mosaic ritual. In this relation the author views the sacrifice of Jesus as the only one that can satisfy the needs of men, the one which alone requires no repetition. Following the example of our Lord Himself in the institution of the Supper, the writer alludes to the covenant sacrifice of Exodus 24; and it is perfectly manifest from the way in which he speaks of it that he no more regards Christ’s death as having created the New Covenant, than he does the sacrifice at Sinai as having procured the Old. In each case it is but a dedication, a ratification. He also refers to the offering of the great Day of Atonement, and with it he compares the sacrifice of Christ, calling it the great atonement by which the conscience is purged from dead works to serve the living God (Hebrews 9:14; cf. Hebrews 10:22). The mention of conscience, of course, suggests deliverance from the sense of guilt; but the immediately following words—‘to serve the living God’—point to something far beyond mere escape from punishment, namely, to sanctification and obedience. Repeatedly he tells us that the sacrifices of the OT could not take away sin (Hebrews 10:4; Hebrews 10:11); but if by taking away sin he means merely remission of guilt, his words become meaningless; for why should not obedience to a Divinely appointed ordinance have procured deliverance from guilt? Wherein they failed—what made their continual repetition necessary—was not that they could not give the sense of pardon, but that they could not give deliverance from the bondage of sin. It was in this that Christ’s sacrifice was superior to all the Mosaic offerings, that it led to the service of the living God, that it put sin away (Hebrews 9:26), that it perfected them that are sanctified (Hebrews 10:14), that it worked a change in the will of the believer, realizing the covenant which Jeremiah foresaw when God’s law should be written on the mind and heart (Hebrews 10:16). If holiness is the great essential to salvation (Hebrews 12:14), and Christ’s sacrifice procured no more than deliverance from guilt, then it did not procure salvation. The old ritual could not make the worshipper ‘perfect as pertaining to conscience’ (Hebrews 9:9, Hebrews 10:1), because it only pointed to the need of purity: it could not create the power to attain that purity: there was no force in it to break the power of sin and set free the will to attain holiness and communion with God. We are accustomed to think of atonement as meaning that God is made willing to pardon; but to make Christ’s sacrifice an atonement in this sense is to charge it with exactly the same weakness as belonged to the old ritual. Unquestionably Christ’s death does, in the writer’s view, guarantee forgiveness; but everywhere this forgiveness is regarded not as an end in itself, but only as the accompaniment of deliverance from the power of sin and the attainment of actual holiness. Indeed, there can be no certainty of pardon to the conscience until it is sensible of sanctification. God forgives not because Christ’s death has been accepted in lien of the punishment of men, but because the perfect holiness and love of Christ’s life consummated by a death of shame are a pledge to God for the sanctification of all believers (Hebrews 10:9-10). Christ’s life and death established perfection as an actual fact in human history, broke the hitherto victorious power of evil; and by virtue of His resurrection and ascension that power of victory can be communicated to all who believe. It is in this sense that Christ intercedes for men in heaven, in that He is there as a guarantee of the perfectibility of human nature; and because of His pledge that in those who are His, sin is, and will be, conquered and cast out, God is just to forgive (cf. Hebrews 7:25, Hebrews 8:1, Hebrews 9:12; Hebrews 9:14; Hebrews 9:24, Hebrews 13:20, Hebrews 7:16, Hebrews 2:11, Hebrews 5:9).

7. We come, finally, to the Epistles of St. John, with which we shall conclude our consideration. Here, as was to be expected in the Beloved Disciple, the ultimate explanation of the sacrifice of Christ is love, the love of God (1 John 4:10). There is nowhere a suspicion of the thought that a change is made in God by the offering of Jesus. It was as the manifestation of the Father’s love that the Son was sent to suffer and die, and it is the influence of this love on us that creates love in us (1 John 4:19), and renders possible the keeping of God’s commandments (1 John 5:3). To be filled with love is to dwell in God (1 John 4:12), to be born of God; and this ensures the victory that overcometh the world, and sin, which is the world-spirit (1 John 5:4-5). Selfishness and hatred are the signs of unregenerateness, because salvation means love to God, and consequently love to all mankind (1 John 4:20-21). The death of Christ was the proof of His Divinity, because it showed perfect love. Once more, then, in St. John’s view also it is a morally effective sacrifice, a power of renewal, not a substitution. God forgives all in whom sin is broken by the death of Christ, and who are being sanctified by His indwelling life. ‘If we confess our sins,’ he says, ‘he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins’ (1 John 1:9); for if we confess, it is plain that the holiness and love of Christ are acting upon us, so that we realize our sinfulness, and hate it (cf. 1 John 1:7). The belief in Christ, as the whole Epistle shows, to which forgiveness and cleansing are granted, is no mere passive acceptance of deliverance from guilt, no mere belief in substitutionary merit, but the perception of the perfect holiness and love of Jesus Christ, so that sin is revealed in all its hideousness as rebellion against a Father of love, and the man is delivered from its power by his hatred of it, and longing to serve and love God and the brethren. It is the creation in man of a spirit akin to that which fired the life of Jesus, that is man’s salvation; and it is the power in Christ’s self-sacrifice to produce this and to perfect it, that is the pledge to God of man’s sanctification, and that makes Him just in forgiving sin.

On the whole subject this must be added, that sacrifice is acceptable to God only in virtue of the spirit which lies behind it and which it expresses. It is never the outward value of the offering, never the amount of suffering it entails, that makes it precious in God’s sight. The multiplicity and costliness of the sacrifices under the old ritual became hateful in His eyes whenever they became a mere attempt to bribe God’s favour, and ceased to be the symbol of dependence and gratitude and obedience in man (cf. Isaiah 1:13-14). Mercy toward man and love to God must always be the underlying, inspiring spirit of sacrifice, else even the minutest observance of ritual becomes worthless (Matthew 23:23-33; Matthew 9:13; Matthew 12:7). Christ’s sacrifice, then, was acceptable to God, not because of the amount of suffering or the shame of the death,—the willingness to undergo so much was but the revelation of the greatness of the love,—but because it manifested perfect obedience, perfect holiness, perfect Divine love. It is in the same way—it is in Christ only—that the sacrifices of Christians are a sweet incense unto God. Men no longer need offer sacrifice for sin, but the Father still asks of the believer burnt offerings of self-dedication (Romans 12:1), thank-offerings of grateful love. These are sacrifices which the love of God and the holiness for which the believer longs make it a joy to offer, because they are a revelation of the spirit which inspires his heart and works in his whole life—the spirit of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 5:19-21, Hebrews 13:15-16, Philippians 4:17-18, Matthew 5:23-24). See also next art. and artt. Atonement and Propitiation.

Literature.—Art. ‘Sacrifice’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible and in Encyc. Bibl.; Dorner, Syst. of Chr. Doct. iv. 1–124; Martensen, Christian Dogmatics, 302–315; Clarke, Outline of Christian Theol. 308–368; Bushnell, Vicarious Sacrifice and Christ and His Salvation; F. D. Maurice, Doctrine of Sacrifice; Beyschlag, NT Theol.; Weiss, do.; Cave, Script Doct. of Sacrifice; Dale, Atonement; Denney, Death of Christ; Fairbairn, Christ in Mod. Theol. 479–487; Godet, NT Studies, 148–200.

W. J. S. Miller.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Sacrifice (2)'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdn/​s/sacrifice-2.html. 1906-1918.
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