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Atonement

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ATONEMENT . The word ‘atonement’ (at-onement), in English, denotes the making to be at one, or reconciling, of persons who have been at variance. In OT usage it signifies that by which sin is ‘covered’ or ‘expiated,’ or the wrath of God averted. Thus, in EV [Note: English Version.] , of the Levitical sacrifices ( Leviticus 1:4 ; Leviticus 4:21 ; Leviticus 4:26 ; Leviticus 4:31 ; Leviticus 4:35 etc.), of the half-shekel of ransom-money ( Exodus 30:15-16 ), of the intercession of Moses ( Exodus 32:30 ), of the zeal of Phinehas ( Numbers 25:13 ), etc. In the NT the word occurs once in AV [Note: Authorized Version.] as tr. [Note: translate or translation.] of the Gr. word katallagç , ordinarily and in RV [Note: Revised Version.] rendered ‘reconciliation’ ( Romans 5:11 ). The ‘reconciliation’ here intended, however, as the expression ‘received,’ and also Romans 5:10 (‘reconciled to God through the death of his Son’) show, is that made by the death of Christ on behalf of sinners (cf. Colossians 1:20 ‘having made peace through the blood of his cross’). In both OT and NT the implication is that the ‘reconciliation’ or ‘making-at-one’ of mankind and God is effected through expiation or propitiation. In its theological use, therefore, the word ‘atonement’ has come to denote, not the actual state of reconciliation into which believers are introduced through Christ, whose work is the means to this end, but the reconciling act itself the work accomplished by Christ in His sufferings and death for the salvation of the world.

i. In the Old Testament. In tracing the Scripture teaching on the subject of atonement, it is desirable to begin with the OT, in which the foundations of the NT doctrine are laid. Here several lines of preparation are to be distinguished, which, as OT revelation draws to its close, tend to unite.

1 . The most general, but indispensable, preparation in the OT lies in its doctrines of the holiness, righteousness, and grace of God ; also, of the sin and guilt of man . God’s holiness (including in this His ethical purity, His awful elevation above the creature, and His zeal for His own honour) is the background of every doctrine of atonement. As holy, God abhors sin, and cannot but in righteousness eternally react against it. His grace shows itself in forgiveness ( Exodus 34:6-7 ); but even forgiveness must be bestowed in such a way, and on such conditions, that the interest of holiness shall not be compromised, but shall be upheld and magnified. Hence the bestowal of forgiveness in connexion with intercession (Moses, etc.), with sacrificial atonements, with signal vindications of the Divine righteousness (Phinehas). On man’s side sin is viewed as voluntary, as infinitely heinous, as entailing a Divine condemnation that needs to be removed. All the world has gone astray from God, and the connexion in which each individual stands with his family, nation, and race entails on him a corporate as well as an individual responsibility.

2 . A second important line of preparation in the OT is in the doctrine of sacrifice. Whatever the origins or ethnic associations of sacrifice, it is indisputable that sacrifice in the OT has a peculiar meaning, in accordance with the ideas of God and His holiness above indicated. From the beginning, sacrifice was the appointed means of approach to God. Whether, in the earliest narrative, the difference in the sacrifices of Cain and Abel had to do with the fact that the one was bloodless and the other an animal sacrifice ( Genesis 4:3-5 ), or lay solely in the disposition of the offerers ( Genesis 4:7 ), is not clear. Probably, however, from the commencement, a mystic virtue was attached to the shedding and presentation of the sacred element of the blood. Up to the Exodus, we have only the generic type of the burnt-offering; the Exodus itself gave birth to the Passover, in which blood sprinkled gave protection from destruction; at the ratification of the Covenant, peace-offerings appear with burnt-offerings ( Exodus 20:24 ; Exodus 24:5 ); finally, the Levitical ritual provided a cultus in which the idea of atonement had a leading place. Critical questions as to the age of this legislation need not detain us, for there is an increasing tendency to recognize that, whatever the date of the final codification of the Levitical laws, the bulk of these laws rest on older usages. That the propitiatory idea in sacrifice goes back to early times may be seen in such pictures of patriarchal piety as Job 1:5 ; Job 42:7-8 ; while an atoning virtue is expressly assumed as belonging to sacrifice in 1 Samuel 3:14 . Cf. also allusions to sin- and guilt-offerings, and to propitiatory rites in so old a stratum of laws as the ‘Law of Holiness’ ( Leviticus 19:21-22 ; Leviticus 23:19 ), and in Hosea 4:8 , Micah 6:6-7 , Ezekiel 40:39 ; Ezekiel 42:13 etc.

It is in the Levitical system that all the ideas involved in OT sacrifice come to clearest expression. The Epistle to the Hebrews admirably seizes the idea of the system. It has absolutely nothing to do with the ideas that underlay heathen rites, but rests on a basis of its own. It provides a means by which the people, notwithstanding their sin, maintain their fellowship with God, and enjoy His favour. It rests in all its parts on the idea of the holiness of God, and is designed throughout to impress on the mind of the worshipper the sense of the separation which sin has made between him and God. Even with sacrifice the people could not approach God directly, but only through the priesthood. The priests alone could enter the sacred enclosure; into the Most Holy Place even the priests were not permitted to enter, but only the high priest, and he but once a year, and then only with blood of sacrifice, offered first for himself and then for the people; all this signifying that ‘the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest’ (Hebrews 9:7-8 ).

The details of the sacrificial ritual must be sought elsewhere (see Sacrifice). It is to be noted generally that the animal sacrifices were of four kinds the burnt-offering, the sin-offering, the guilt-offering (a species of sin-offering which included a money-compensation to the person injured), the peace-offering. The victims must be unblemished; the presentation was accompanied by imposition of hands (on meaning, cf. Leviticus 16:21 ); the blood, after the victim was killed, was sprinkled on and about the altar: on the Day of Atonement it was taken also within the veil. The burnt-offering was wholly consumed; in the case of the peace-offering a feast was held with part of the flesh. No sacrifice was permitted for sins done ‘presumptuously,’ or with ‘a high hand’ ( Numbers 15:30 ).

The design of all these sacrifices (even of the peace-offering, as features of the ritual show) was ‘to make atonement’ for the sin of the offerer, or of the congregation (Leviticus 1:4 ; Leviticus 4:20 ; Leviticus 4:26 ; Leviticus 4:31 ; Leviticus 5:6 ; Leviticus 17:11 etc.). The word so translated means primarily ‘to cover,’ then ‘to propitiate’ or ‘expiate.’ The atoning virtue is declared in Leviticus 17:11 to reside in the blood, as the vehicle of the soul or life. The effect of the offering was to ‘cover’ the person or offence from the eyes of a holy God, i.e. to annul guilt and procure forgiveness. It ‘cleansed’ from moral and ceremonial pollution.

From this point theories take their origin as to the precise signification of sacrificial atonement. (1) Was the act purely symbolical an expression of penitence, confession, prayer, consecration, surrender of one’s life to God? Hardly; for if, in one way, the victim is identified with the offerer, in another it is distinguished from him as a creature through whose blood-shedding expiation is made for his sin. (2) Is the idea, then, as many hold, that the blood represents a pure life put between the sinful soul and God an innocent life covering a polluted one? In this case the death is held to be immaterial, and the manipulation of the blood, regarded as still fresh and living, is the one thing of importance. The theory comes short in not recognizing that, in any case, there is in the act the acknowledgment of God’s righteous sentence upon sin else why bring sacrifice of atonement at all? It is true that the blood represents the life, but it is surely not as life simply, but as life taken life given up in death that the blood is presented on the altar as a covering for sin. It would be hard otherwise to explain how in the NT so much stress is always laid on death , or the shedding of the blood, as the means of redemption. (3) There remains the view that the victim is regarded as expiating the guilt of the offerer by itself dying in his room yielding up its life in his stead in acknowledgment of the judgment of God on his sin. This, which is the older view, is probably still the truer. The theory of Ritschl, that the sacrifices had nothing to do with sin, but were simply a protection against the terrible ‘majesty’ of God, is generally allowed to be untenable.

3 . There is yet a third line of preparation for this doctrine in the OT, viz.: the prophetic . The prophets, at first sight, seem to take up a position altogether antagonistic to sacrifices. Seeing, however, that in many indirect ways they recognize its legitimacy, and even include it in their pictures of a restored theocracy (cf. Isaiah 56:6-7 ; Isaiah 60:7 ; Isaiah 66:23 , Jeremiah 17:24-27 ; Jeremiah 33:17-18 etc.), their polemic must be regarded as against the abuse rather than the use. The proper prophetic preparation, however, lay along a different line from the sacrificial. The basis of it is in the idea of the Righteous Sufferer, which is seen shaping itself in the Prophets and the Psalms (cf. Psalms 22:1-31 ). The righteous man, both through the persecutions he sustains and the national calamities arising from the people’s sins which he shares, is a living exemplification of the law of the innocent suffering for the guilty. Such suffering, however, while giving weight to intercession, is not in itself atoning. But in the picture of the Servant of Jehovah in Is 53 a new idea emerges. The sufferings arising from the people’s sins have, in this Holy One, become, through the spirit in which they are borne, and the Divine purpose in permitting them, sufferings for sin vicarious, healing, expiatory. Their expiatory character is affirmed in the strongest manner in the successive verses, and sacrificial language is freely taken over upon the sufferer ( Isaiah 53:5-6 ; Isaiah 53:8 ; Isaiah 53:10-12 ). Here at length the ideas of prophecy and those of sacrificial law coincide, and, though there is no second instance of like clear and detailed portraiture, it is not difficult to recognize the recurrence of the same ideas in later prophecies, e.g. , in Zechariah 3:9 ; Zechariah 12:10 ; Zechariah 13:1 ; Zechariah 13:7 , Daniel 9:24-26 . With such predictions on its lips OT prophecy closes, awaiting the time when, in Malachi’s words, the Lord, whom men sought, would come suddenly to His Temple ( Malachi 3:1 ).

ii. In the New Testament. The period between the OT and the NT affords little for our purpose. It is certain that, in the time of our Lord, even if, as some think, there were partial exceptions, the great mass of the Jewish people had no idea of a suffering Messiah, or thought of any connexion between the Messiah and the sacrifices. If atonement was needed, it was to be sought for, apart from the sacrifices, in almsgiving and other good deeds; and the virtues of the righteous were regarded as in some degree availing for the wicked. It was a new departure when Jesus taught that ‘the Christ should suffer’ (cf. Mark 9:12 , Luke 24:46 ). Yet in His own suffering and death He claimed to be fulfilling the Law and the Prophets ( Luke 22:37 ; Luke 24:46 ).

1. Life and Teaching of Jesus . The main task of Jesus on earth was to reveal the Father, to disclose the true nature of the Kingdom of God and its righteousness, in opposition to false ideals, to lead men to the recognition of His Messiahship, to recover the lost, to attach a few faithful souls to Himself as the foundation of His new Kingdom, and prepare their minds for His death and resurrection, and for the after duty of spreading His gospel among mankind. The dependence of the Messianic salvation on His Person and activity is everywhere presupposed; but it was only in fragmentary and partial utterances that He was able for a time to speak of its connexion with His death. Alike in the Synoptics and in John we see how this dénouement is gradually led up to. At His birth it is declared of Him that ‘he shall save his people from their sins’ ( Matthew 1:21 ); He is the promised ‘Saviour’ of the house of David ( Luke 1:31-33 ; Luke 2:11 ); the Baptist announced Him, with probable reference to Isaiah 53 , as ‘the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world’ ( John 1:29 , cf. John 1:36 ). From the hour of His definite acceptance of His vocation of Messiahship in His baptism, and at the Temptation, combined as this was with the clear consciousness of a break with the ideals of His nation, Jesus could not but have been aware that His mission would cost Him His life. He who recalled the fate of all past prophets, and sent forth His disciples with predictions of persecutions and death ( Matthew 10:1-42 ), could be under no delusions as to His own fate at the hands of scribes and Pharisees (cf. Matthew 9:15 ). But it was not simply as a ‘fate’ that Jesus recognized the inevitableness of His death; there is abundant attestation that He saw in it a Divine ordination, the necessary fulfilment of prophecy, and an essential means to the salvation of the world . As early as the Judæan ministry, accordingly, we find Him speaking to Nicodemus of the Son of Man being lifted up, that whosoever believeth on Him should not perish ( John 3:14 f.). He sets Himself forth in the discourse at Capernaum as the Bread of Life, in terms which imply the surrender of His body to death for the life of the world ( John 6:32 ff.). Later, He repeatedly speaks of the voluntary surrender of His life for His sheep ( John 10:11 ; John 10:15 ; John 10:17-18 etc.). After Peter’s great confession, He makes full announcement of His approaching sufferings and death, always coupling this with His after resurrection ( Matthew 16:21 ; Matthew 17:22-23 ; Matthew 20:18-19 ||). He dwells on the necessity of His death for the fulfilment of the Divine purpose, and is straitened till it is accomplished ( Mark 10:32 , Luke 9:51 ; Luke 12:50 ). It was the subject of converse at the Transfiguration ( Luke 9:31 ). Yet clearer intimations were given. There is first the well-known announcement to the disciples, called forth by their disputes about pre-eminence: ‘The Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many’ ( Matthew 20:28 ||). Here Christ announces that His death was the purpose of His coming, and, further, that it was of the nature of a saving ransom. His life was given to redeem the lives of others. To the same effect are the solemn words at the Last Supper. Here Christ declares that His body, symbolized by the broken bread, and His blood, symbolized by the poured-out wine, are given for His disciples for the remission of sins and the making of a New Covenant, and they are invited to eat and drink of the spiritual food thus provided ( Matthew 26:26 ff. ||, 1 Corinthians 11:23 ff.). It is reasonable to infer from these utterances that Jesus attached a supreme importance and saving efficacy to His death, and that His death was a deliberate and voluntary surrender of Himself for the end of the salvation of the world.

If we inquire, next, as to the nature of this connexion of Christ’s death with human salvation, we can scarcely err if we assume Jesus to have understood it in the light of the great prophecy which we know to have been often in His thoughts ( Isaiah 53 ). Already at the commencement of His Galilæan ministry He publicly identified Himself with the Servant of Jehovah ( Luke 4:13 ff.); the words of Isaiah 53:12 were present to His mind as the last hour drew near ( Luke 22:37 ). What prophecy of all He studied could be more instructive to Him as to the meaning of His sufferings and death? This yields the key to His utterances quoted above, and confirms the view we have taken of their meaning. Then came the crisis-hour itself. All the Evangelists dwell minutely on the scenes of the betrayal, Gethsemane, the trial, the mocking and scourging, the crucifixion. But how mysterious are many of the elements in these sufferings ( e.g. Mark 14:33 ff; Mark 15:34 , John 12:27 ); how strange to see them submitted to by the Prince of Life; how awful the horror of great darkness in which the Christ passed away! Can we explain it on the hypothesis of a simple martyrdom? Do we not need the solution which the other passages suggest of a sin-bearing Redeemer? Finally, there is the crowning attestation to His Messiahship, and seal upon His work, in the Resurrection, and the commission given to the disciples to preach remission of sins in His name to all nations a clear proof that through His death and resurrection a fundamental change had been wrought in the relations of God to humanity ( Matthew 28:18-20 , Luke 24:47 , John 20:21-23 ).

2. The Apostolic teaching . The OT had spoken; the Son of Man had come and yielded up His life a ransom for many. He was now exalted, and had shed forth the Holy Spirit ( Acts 2:32-33 ). There remained the task of putting these things together, and of definitely interpreting the work Christ had accomplished, in the light of the prophecies and symbols of the Old Covenant. This was the task of the Apostles, guided by the same Spirit that had inspired the prophets; and from it arose the Apostolic doctrine of the atonement. Varied in standpoints and in modes of representation, the Apostolic writings are singularly consentient in their testimony to the central fact of the propitiatory and redeeming efficacy of Christ’s death. St. Paul states it as the common doctrine of the Church ‘how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; and that he was buried; and that he hath been raised on the third day, according to the Scriptures’ ( 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 ). St. Peter, St. Paul, St. John, the Epistle to the Hebrews, the Book of Revelation, are at one here. The class of expressions in which this idea is set forth is familiar: Christ ‘bore our sins,’ ‘died for our sins,’ ‘suffered for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous,’ ‘was made sin for us,’ was ‘the propitiation for our sins,’ was ‘a sin-offering,’ ‘reconciled us to God in the body of his flesh through death,’ was our ‘ransom,’ procured for us ‘forgiveness of sins through his blood,’ etc. (cf. 1 Peter 1:2 ; 1 Peter 1:18-19 ; 1 Peter 2:21 ; 1Pe 2:24 ; 1 Peter 3:18 , Romans 3:24-25 ; Romans 5:8-11 ; Romans 8:34 , 2 Corinthians 5:21 , Galatians 1:4 ; Galatians 3:13 ; Galatians 4:4-5 , Ephesians 1:7 ; Ephesians 2:13-17 ; Ephesians 2:20 ; Ephesians 5:2 , Colossians 1:14 ; Colossians 1:20-22 , 1Ti 2:5 ; 1 Timothy 2:8 , Titus 2:14 , Hebrews 1:3 ; Hebrews 2:17 ; Hebrews 7:26 ; Hebrews 9:24-28 ; Hebrews 10:10-14 , 1 John 1:7 ; 1 John 2:2 ; 1 John 3:5 ; 1 John 4:10 , Revelation 1:5 ; Revelation 5:9 etc.). It is customary to speak of the sacrificial terms employed as ‘figures’ borrowed from the older dispensation. The NT point of view rather is that the sacrifices of the Old Covenant are the figures, and Christ’s perfect offering of Himself to God, once for all, for man’s redemption, is the reality of which the earlier sacrifices were the shadows and types ( Hebrews 10:1 ff.).

Several things stand out clearly in the Apostolic doctrine of the atonement; each of them in harmony with what we have learned from our study of the subject in the OT. The presuppositions are the same “the holiness, righteousness, and grace of God, and the sin and guilt of man, entailing on the individual and the race a Divine condemnation and exposure to wrath which man is unable of himself to remove (wrought out most fully by St. Paul, Romans 1:17 ; Romans 3:9 ; Romans 3:19-23 , Galatians 2:16 etc.). The atonement itself is represented (1) as the fruit, and not the cause of God’s love ( Romans 5:8 , 1 John 4:10 etc.); (2) as a necessity for human salvation ( Romans 3:19 ff., Hebrews 9:22 ); (3) as realizing perfectly what the ancient sacrifices did imperfectly and typically ( Hebrews 9:10 ); as an expiation, purging from guilt and cancelling condemnation ( Romans 8:1 ; Romans 8:32-33 , Hebrews 1:3 ; Hebrews 9:11-14 , 1 John 1:7 , Revelation 1:5 etc.), and at the same time a ‘propitiation,’ averting wrath, and opening the way for a display of mercy ( Romans 3:25 , Heb 2:17 , 1 John 2:2 ; 1 John 4:10 ); (4) as containing in itself the most powerful ethical motive to repentance, a new life, active godliness, Christian service, etc. ( Rom 6:1 ff., 1 Corinthians 6:20 , 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 , Galatians 2:20 ; Galatians 6:14 , Ephesians 5:1-2 , 1 Peter 1:21-22 , 1 John 4:11 etc.; with this is connected the work of the Holy Spirit, which operates these sanctifying changes in the soul); (5) as, therefore, effecting a true ‘redemption,’ both in respect of the magnitude of the price at which our salvation is bought ( Romans 8:32 , 1 Timothy 2:6 , Hebrews 10:29 , 1 Peter 1:18-19 etc.), and the completeness of the deliverance accomplished from wrath ( Romans 5:9 , 1 Thessalonians 1:10 ), from the power of indwelling sin ( Romans 6:6 ; Romans 6:12-14 ; Romans 8:2 etc.), from bondage to Satan ( Ephesians 2:2-3 ; Ephesians 6:12 , Hebrews 2:14-15 etc.), from the tyranny of the evil world ( Galatians 1:4 ; Galatians 6:14 , Titus 2:14 , 1 Peter 1:18 etc.), finally, from the effects of sin in death and all other evils ( Romans 8:23 , 1 Corinthians 15:20 ff. etc.).

In the NT teaching, therefore, the sacrifice of Christ fulfils all that was prefigurative in the OT doctrine of atonement; yet, as the true and perfect sacrifice, it infinitely transcends, while it supersedes, all OT pre-figurations. The relation of the Christian atonement to that of the Law is, accordingly, as much one of contrast as of fulfilment. This is the thesis wrought out in the Epistle to the Hebrews, but its truth is recognized in all parts of the NT. The sacrifices of the OT were, in their very nature, incapable of really removing sin (Hebrews 10:4 ). Their imperfection was shown in the irrational character of the victims, in their frequent repetition, in their multiplication, etc. ( Hebrews 9:10 ). In Jesus, however, every character meets, qualifying Him to make atonement for humanity Himself at once perfect priest and perfect sacrifice: Divine dignity as Son of God ( Romans 1:4 ; Romans 8:32 , Hebrews 1:2-3 etc.); a perfect participation in human nature ( Romans 1:3 ; Romans 8:3 , Galatians 4:4 , Hebrews 2:14-18 etc.); absolute sinlessness ( 2 Corinthians 5:21 , Heb 4:15 , 1 Peter 1:19 ; 1 Peter 2:22 , 1 John 3:5 etc.); entire human sympathy ( Romans 8:34 , Hebrews 2:17 ; Hebrews 4:14-16 ); as regards God, undeviating obedience and surrender to the will of the Father ( Philippians 2:7-8 , Hebrews 4:8-9 ; Hebrews 10:8-10 ). He is ‘Jesus Christ the righteous’ ( 1 John 2:1 ), and His sacrificial death is the culmination of His obedience ( Romans 5:19 , Philippians 2:8 , Hebrews 10:9-10 ).

iii. Rationale of the Atonement. The way is now open to our last question How was atonement for sin by Christ possible? And in what did Christ’s atonement consist? The NT does not develop a theology of the atonement; yet a theology would not be possible if the NT did not yield the principles, and lay down the lines, of at least a partial solution of this problem.

A chief clue to an answer to the above questions lies in what is taught (1) of Christ’s original, essential relation to the creation (cf. Joh 1:3-4 , 1 Corinthians 8:5 , Ephesians 1:19 , Colossians 1:15-20 , Hebrews 1:2 , Revelation 1:11 ; Revelation 3:14 ); and (2), as arising out of that, of His archetypal, representative relation to the race He came to save (cf. John 1:4 ; John 1:8-14 , Romans 5:12 ff., 1 Corinthians 15:21-22 ; 1 Corinthians 15:45-47 ). This connects itself with what is said of Christ’s Divine dignity. Deeper even than the value His Divine Sonship gives to His sacrifice is the original relation to humanity of the Creative Word which renders His unique representative relation to the race possible. It is not going beyond the representations of the NT to say, with Maurice and others, that He is the ‘root of humanity.’ In Him it is grounded; by Him it is sustained; from Him it derives all the powers of its development. While He condescends to take on Him the nature of created humanity, His personality is above humanity. Hence His generic relation to the race ‘Son of God’ ‘Son of Man.’ In this ‘mystery of godliness’ ( 1 Timothy 3:16 ) lies the possibility of a representative atonement for the race.

For this is the next point in the solution of our problem; Christ’s identification of Himself with the race He came to save is complete. It is not merely ‘federal’ or ‘legal’; it is vital, and this in every respect. His love is unbounded; His sympathy is complete; His purpose and desire to save are unfaltering. He identifies Himself with humanity, with a perfect consciousness (1) of what He is; (2) of what the race He came to save is and needs; (3) of what a perfect atonement involves (cf. John 8:14 ff.). Himself holy, the well-beloved Son, He knows with unerring clearness what sin is, and what the mind of God is about sin. He does not shrink from anything His identification with a sinful race entails upon Him, but freely accepts its position and responsibilities as His own. He is ‘made under the law’ ( Galatians 4:4 ); a law not merely preceptive, but broken and violated, and entailing ‘curse.’ Identifying Himself thus perfectly with the race of men as under sin on the one hand, and with the mind of God about sin on the other, He is the natural mediator between God and man, and is alone in the position to render to God whatever is necessary as atonement for sin.

But what is necessary, and how did Christ render it? Here come in the ‘theories’ of atonement; most of them ‘broken lights’; all needed to do full justice to the Divine reality. We would dismiss as infra-Scriptural all theories which affirm that atonement reparation to the violated law of righteousness is not necessary. Christ’s work, while bringing forgiveness, conserves holiness, magnifies law, vindicates righteousness (Romans 3:21-31 ). Also defective are theories which seek the sole explanation of atonement in the ethical motive; purely moral theories. Atonement is taken here in the sense only of ‘reconciliation’ the reconciliation of man to God. Scripture recognizes obstacles to salvation on the side of righteousness in God as well as in man’s unwillingness, and atonement aims at the removal of both. It has the aspect of propitiation, of expiation, of restitutio in integrum , as well as of moral influence. It is an act of reconciliation, embracing God’s relation to the world equally with the world’s relation to God (cf. Romans 3:25 ; Romans 5:11 ; Romans 5:10 , 2 Corinthians 5:18-21 ).

There remain two views, one finding the essence of Christ’s atonement in the surrender of a holy will to God in the obedience of Christ unto death, even the death of the Cross (Maurice and others). This assuredly is a vital element in atonement, but is it the whole? Does Scripture not recognize also the submission of Christ to the endurance of the actual penal evil of sin specially to death as that rests in the judgment of God upon our race? All that has preceded necessitates the answer that it does. The other, the legal or forensic view, accordingly, puts the essence of atonement in this penal endurance ; in the substitutionary submission of Christ to the penalty due to us for sin. But this also is one-sided and unethical, if divorced from the other, and from the recognition of the fact that not simply endurance of evil, but the spirit in which the evil is endured, and the response made to the Divine mind in it, is the one acceptable thing to God (cf. J. M‘Leod Campbell). It is here, therefore, that we must seek the inmost secret of atonement. The innocent suffering with and for the guilty is a law from which Jesus did not withdraw Himself. In His consciousness of solidarity with mankind, He freely submitted to those evils (shame, ignominy, suffering, temptation, death) which express the judgment of God on the sin of the world, and in the experience of them peculiarly in the yielding up of His life did such honour to all the principles of righteousness involved, rendered so inward and spiritual a response to the whole mind of God in His attitude to the sin of the world, as constituted a perfect atonement for that sin for such as believingly accept it, and make its spirit their own. ‘By the which will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all’ ( Hebrews 10:10 ). See Propitiation, Reconciliation, Redemption.

James Orr.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Atonement'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdb/a/atonement.html. 1909.

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