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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Atonement (2)

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ATONEMENT.—The Atonement is the reconciling work of Jesus Christ the Son of God, in gracious fulfilment of the loving purpose of His Father; whereby, through the sacrifice of Himself upon the Cross once for all, on behalf and instead of sinful men, satisfaction was made for the sins of the world and communion between God and man restored.

The starting-point of Christian experience is the Resurrection of Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:17, Romans 4:25). It may now be taken as accepted that the belief of the primitive community and the Apostolic preaching were based on this conviction (see Harnack, What is Christianity? English translation Lect. ix.; Schmiedel, Encyc. Bibl. art. ‘Resurrection’). This fact, reinforced by successive appearances of the risen Christ whether to individuals or the assembled disciples, led to the further conviction, the ultimate root of the doctrine of the Atonement, that Jesus of Nazareth, crucified, risen, ascended, was present in the midst of the Christian congregation. He who in the days of His ministry had claimed authority on earth to forgive sins (Matthew 9:2-6), confirming the word with signs following, who had awakened an implicit trust as alone having the words of eternal life (John 6:68; John 16:30), and who had manifested Himself as the one way by which men might come to the Father (John 14:6), had fulfilled His own promise to return to His elect and abide with them to the end of the days (Matthew 28:20). The first corporate act of the disciples was to claim the promise to be present in the midst of two or three gathered in His name (Matthew 18:20), by calling upon their Master to choose into the Apostolate one of two set before Him conceived as invisibly present (Acts 1:15-26). Moreover, He was present in power as exalted to God’s right hand, not therefore limited by time and space, but acting under Divine, eternal conditions, arising to succour His martyr Stephen (Acts 7:55; Acts 7:59), manifesting Himself as the Righteous One to St. Paul (Acts 22:14), giving specific revelations of His will to Ananias and to St. Paul himself (Acts 9:4-6; Acts 9:10-16, Acts 18:9-10, Acts 23:11), and performing those greater works of which He had spoken (John 14:12) through those who wrought in His name (Acts 3:6; Acts 9:34). This conviction, peculiarly vivid in the earlier ages, is clearly traced in the hymns addressed to Christ ‘as to a god’ (Pliny’s Letter to Trajan), and in the records of early martyrdoms. And the realism with which it was held even as late as the 4th cent. is attested by apologetic like that of Athanasius (see de Incarnatione, 46 ff.), or traditions like that of the consecration of St. John Lateran.

But proclamation of forgiveness of sins through faith in the name of Jesus, though arising out of the conviction that the Absolver was Himself in the power of His deity still present on earth, was not made until the realization of the promise of the Spirit in the Pentecostal gift. To this fact, the external results of which were present in the experience of his hearers, St. Peter appealed as witnessing to the reality of Jesus’ exaltation and His power to remit sins, (Acts 2:33, cf. Galatians 3:14). This significant element in the first preaching of the Gospel answers by anticipation objections urged against the Atonement as involving immoral consequences and unworthy views of God. Not only in this passage but throughout the Acts the possession of the Spirit is emphasized as the essential mark of discipleship (Acts 2:38; Acts 4:31; Acts 5:32; Acts 8:14-19; Acts 9:17; Acts 10:47; Acts 11:16; Acts 13:52; Acts 19:1-6). The call to repentance, intimately associated with the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38, cf. Matthew 3:11), necessarily involved a life conformed to the image of the Son of God. The Gospel, though a message of God’s free favour with no condition of antecedent righteousness, referred to moral results, the manifestation of an imparted spirit, as evidence of the truth of the promise (Romans 8:13-14, Galatians 5:22-24). And when the doctrine of justification by faith was challenged by imperfectly instructed Christians, St. Paul met the charge by an abrupt appeal not only to elementary moral convictions, but to the implications of baptism as a new and spiritual birth (Romans 6:1-4). Nor, again, was it possible for those to whom the possession of the Spirit was a fact of experience to regard God otherwise than as the Father. For He who dwelt within them was the Spirit of Christ Jesus (Acts 16:7, Romans 8:9, Philippians 1:19, 1 Peter 1:11), the promise of the Father (Acts 1:4), whereby they had themselves attained the adoption, and were enabled to cry, ‘Abba, Father’ (Romans 8:15-17, Galatians 4:6).

The fact of Pentecost was immediately explained as that outpouring of the Spirit upon all flesh which was to mark the establishment of the Messianic kingdom (Acts 2:16-21; Acts 5:31-32). It stood directly related to the event of which the Apostles were the chosen witnesses, the Resurrection of Jesus, whereby He was exalted to be a Prince and a Saviour unto the remission of sins (Acts 2:33; Acts 2:38), of which, according to Hebrew expectation, the kingdom was to be the home (e.g. Jeremiah 31, Ezekiel 36:16-36). The assurance that Christ was the ever present source of forgiveness gave its supreme significance to the Cross by which He entered into His glory (John 12:32). Later theologians have been charged with ‘placing the emphasis too exclusively upon the death of Jesus as the means of redemption’ (H. L. Wild, Contentio Veritatis, Essay iii.). But the evidence of the NT is irresistible. It is true that the earliest sermons lay stress rather upon the fact of the Resurrection, but always as closely following upon the Death, which, though inflicted by His enemies, resulted from the determinate counsel of God (Acts 2:23), who glorified ‘his Servant’ Jesus. The frequent repetition of this OT expression (παῖς θεοῦ) in the early chapters of Acts (Acts 3:13; Acts 3:26; Acts 4:27; Acts 4:30), taken in connexion with explicit references to the things which God foreshadowed by the prophets that His Messiah should suffer (Acts 2:23; Acts 3:18; Acts 4:11; Acts 4:25-28; Acts 13:27; cf. 1 Corinthians 15:3; 1 Peter 1:11), leaves no room for doubt that Philip the Evangelist was not alone in beginning from the picture of Jehovah’s Suffering Servant to preach Jesus (Acts 8:35), but that the Apostles gave their witness to the Resurrection by preaching what St. Paul called ‘Christ crucified’ (1 Corinthians 1:23, cf. Galatians 3:1). The Crucifixion was regarded neither as a bare fact nor as the symbol of a theological system, but as a ‘gospel,’ an event whose reality lay in its significance, a message of Divine favour and forgiveness. The central fact of Christ’s life and work was complex, consisting of both the Cross and the Resurrection. The NT considers neither apart. The redeeming efficacy is attached to each in turn. While, according to the compressed formula in which St. Paul expresses the content of his gospel, ‘Christ died for our sins and rose again the third day’ (1 Corinthians 15:3-4), the common form of the Petrine preaching represents God as raising up Jesus ‘for to give repentance and remission of sins’ (Acts 5:30-31; cf. Acts 2:32-36; Acts 3:15; Acts 3:26, 1 Peter 1:21; 1 Peter 3:21, also Romans 4:25 and 1 Corinthians 15:17). But it was the Cross that tended to fix itself as the central fact, and therefore the characteristic symbol of Christendom. It is the figure of Him ‘who bare our sins in his body on the tree’ which dominates the First Epistle of Peter (1 Peter 2:24). And the 2nd cent. Gospel according to Peter has contrived with singular fidelity to the Apostle’s mind to give an imaginative picture of the Resurrection, wherein the Cross is curiously blended with the rending tomb (Gospel acc. to Peter, § 10, ed. Robinson and James). With St. Paul the gospel of Christ, which is the fixed point in his teaching (Galatians 1:11, 1 Corinthians 15:1, 1 Timothy 1:11, 2 Timothy 2:8), the touchstone of all preaching (Galatians 1:8-9, 1 Timothy 1:3; 1 Timothy 6:3), proclaimed alike to Jew and Gentile (1 Corinthians 1:24), delivered whether to St. Peter or to himself as the deposit of Christian truth (1 Corinthians 3:11, 2 Timothy 1:13-14), is ‘the word of the cross’ (1 Corinthians 1:18; 1 Corinthians 1:23). So remarkable is the unanimity of the two great primary preachers of Christianity that it leaves no room to question the statement of Harnack (What is Christianity? English translation Lect. ix.) that’ the primitive community called Jesus its Lord because He sacrificed His life for it, and because its members were convinced that He had been raised from the dead and was then sitting at the right hand of God.’

To this must be added the general symmetry of the NT and the evidence of Christian institutions and Church History. The story of the Passion is out of all proportion to the rest of the Synoptic narrative, as given in each of the three Gospels, unless the foreground is rightly occupied by the Cross. And here the Fourth Gospel, though it emphasizes the function of revelation in the incarnate life of the Son of God, is found in close and almost unexpected agreement with its predecessors. The Apocalypse rings with the praises of ‘the Lamb’ (Revelation 5:4-6; Revelation 5:12-13; Revelation 7:10; Revelation 7:14-17; Revelation 12:7-12; Revelation 14:1-5; Revelation 19:6-9; cf. Revelation 1:5; Revelation 13:8). The Epistle to the Hebrews, though it opens with one of the classical Christological passages, yet makes the Death of Jesus the pivot of its teaching (Hebrews 2:9). And the Epistle to the Romans, which elaborates the great argument of Justification through a crucified and risen Saviour, is central to the theology of St. Paul.

Midway between the NT and Church History, as related in point of evidential value to either, come the Creed and Sacraments. The former represents the inviolable basis of the word concentrated in catechetical teaching. That its emphasis rested upon the Cross is apparent not only from such primitive formulae as the Apostles’ Creed, but from the NT itself (1 Corinthians 15:3-4, 1 Timothy 1:15). Baptism is the initiatory Christian rite, and whether it conveys or only represents the forgiveness of sins, stood from the first in close relation to the Death and Resurrection of Christ (Matthew 28:19, Mark 16:15-16, Acts 2:38; Acts 8:13; Acts 8:16; Acts 8:36; Acts 9:18; Acts 10:47-48; Acts 16:33; Acts 19:5; Acts 22:16, Romans 6:3-4, Galatians 3:26-27, Ephesians 4:4-6, Colossians 2:12, Titus 3:4-6; 1 Peter 3:21; cf. John 3:5, Acts 11:16, 1 Corinthians 10:2, Hebrews 6:1-6; Hebrews 10:22, 1 John 5:6-8). The Eucharist is the Christian counterpart of the sacrifice of the Passover, which commemorated the deliverance of God’s people from Egypt; it is associated by the terms of its celebration with the Lord’s Passion, and employs language of sacrificial import (Matthew 26:26-28, Mark 14:22-24, Luke 22:19-20, 1 Corinthians 11:18-34; 1 Corinthians 10:16-22 [for τράπεζα Κυρίου = θυσιαστήριον, ct. [Note: contrast.] Malachi 1:7], cf. John 6:52-68 [see Westcott, ad loc.], Exodus 12:27, Hebrews 13:10).

Following upon the Sacraments is the witness of Church History—the worship, the dogma, the art, the experience of the Christian centuries—which have all consistently gathered round the Cross. We are therefore entitled to hold that any interpretation of the Christian facts which shifts the focus from Calvary to Bethlehem or Galilee represents a departure from the historic faith, and tends to distort the Christian revelation.

Theories of the Atonement, of which the view that identifies it with the Incarnation may he taken as the norm, have inevitably been popular in an age dominated by two great influences, physical science and Hegelian philosophy. But it may he doubted whether they have taken their rise in a study of the facts of Scripture and not rather in a determinist conception of the Universe, to which the Incarnation seemed to give a religious and Christian form. A consequence of this method of thought has been the revival, in this country by Bishop Westcott and others, of speculations like those of Rupert of Deutz and the Scotists, which postulate an Incarnation independent of those conditions of human life which demand the forgiveness of sins.* [Note: These speculations must be distinguished from the teaching of the Calvinistic Supralapsarians of the 17th cent., which, relying upon such passages as Ephesians 3:11; 1 Peter 1:20, Revelation 13:8 (?), maintained that the Atonement was itself the fulfilment of an eternal purpose.] It is perhaps enough to say of this line of thought, with Dr. A. B. Davidson (OT Prophecy, ch. x.), that it involves ‘a kind of principle, according to which God develops Himself by an inward necessity,’ and which ‘is certainly not a Biblical principle.’ Such thinking invariably regards the Atonement merely as a mode of the Incarnation required by the conditions under which it took place. And whether this theory be specifically held or not, it has been a tendency of recent theology to fix the mind rather upon the ethical principle of the Atonement, i.e. the obedience or penitence or assent to God’s abhorrence of sin, of which death is the ‘sacrament’ or visible sign, than upon the Crucifixion as a work intrinsically efficacious apart from the moral qualities expressed in its accomplishment. Such views are defective, not because they fail to give expression to aspects of Christ’s redeeming work, but because they stop short at the point where explanation is necessary, why these qualities of the spirit of Jesus should have been directed towards the particular end of the death of the Cross. The climax of the account which St. Paul gives in the Epistle to the Philippians of the exaltation of Jesus, is neither the assumption of human flesh nor the suffering of death, but the obedience which accepted the humiliation of the Cross as the act whereby He fulfilled, not the general, but the particular will of God (Philippians 2:5-11, cf. 1 Peter 1:11).

The Apostles, as we have seen, saw the purpose, and therefore the explanation, of this concrete historical event through the medium of the OT. Whatever view it may be expedient to take of the relation between Hebrew prophecy and Jesus of Nazareth, this fact is of primary importance, because it exhibits what in the view of the first messengers of the Cross was the essential character of the good news it was their mission to proclaim; nor would the case be materially altered if the language of Law and Prophets had merely been chosen to illustrate the central idea of the Gospel. What we find is the remarkable manner in which the idea of the King and the Kingdom, consonant with contemporary Jewish expectation, is combined with that of the suffering Messiah, so alien to the current interpretation of the Scriptures as to present ‘to the Jews a stumbling-block.’ The antithesis between the Cross and the Resurrection was, indeed, such as to suggest that the death of Jesus was united to its marvellous sequel by a chain of causation removing it from the ordinary category of dissolution, and making it the interpretative fact of a career otherwise the most unintelligible in history. But the main point to observe is that the Resurrection, being in the first instance the crucial fact of experience which marked off for the disciples their Master Jesus as the Son of God (Romans 1:4 ὁρισθέντος, cf. Acts 10:36-43; Acts 13:23; Acts 13:32-33), ratified, in the minds of those who had continued with Him in His temptations, that view of His work which had been before the eye of the Divine Sufferer throughout His ministry, and which He had progressively disclosed to hearts slow of belief, until a hitherto invincible prejudice had succumbed to the decisive evidence of accomplishment.

The persistence with which early heresies connected themselves with the Baptism of Jesus reveals the prominence which the event assumed in the story of the ministry, and goes far to authenticate the details of the Synoptic narrative (Matthew 3:13-17, Mark 1:9-11, Luke 3:21-22, cf. John 1:32-34), the correspondence of which with the Apostolic view of the Saviour’s mission is too subtle to warrant the theory that they are the glosses of a later tradition. In this narrative Jesus is represented as doing something more than declaring the obligation which rested upon Him to fulfil that righteousness characteristic of the Hebrew covenant. ‘Thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness,’ i.e. by submitting to the baptism which John would have withheld because it involved repentance and provided for the remission of sins. The Voice from Heaven, and the Temptation endured in the power of the baptismal Spirit (Matthew 4:1, Mark 1:12, Luke 4:1), even if they be regarded merely as the interpretation of the subjective consciousness of Jesus, witness to the identity between the scheme of the ministerial life accepted from the first by the Son of Man and the gospel of the redeeming work preached by the Apostles. For the Voice blends the prophecy of the royal Son (Psalms 2:7) with that of the beloved Servant (Isaiah 42:1), and the Temptation is essentially the refusal of Messianic royalty on any condition but that of suffering service. It is no accident that the same Voice is heard again on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17:5 and Mark 9:7 ὁ υἱός μου ὁ ἁγαπητός, Luke 9:35 ὁ υἱός μου ὁ ἐκλελεγμένος [v.l ἀγαπητός], cf. Isaiah 42:1), when the manner in which righteousness is to be fulfilled is made explicit in the subject of Jesus’ converse with Moses and Elijah, ‘the decease which he was about to fulfil’ (Luke 9:31 πληροῦν), cf. Matthew 3:15 πληρῶσαι; and that again, from the moment when He begins to make plain to the unwilling ears of His disciples that His throne can be reached only through resurrection after suffering and death, He has to cry, ‘Get thee behind me, Satan’ (Matthew 16:23). And the taunt of the rulers on Calvary, when the crucified Jesus is bidden to prove Himself the Christ of God, the chosen (Luke 23:35 ὁ ἐκλεκτός), makes it clear that the claim to be at once the Messiah and the Servant, if doubted by the disciples and derided by the Jews, was at least in the hour of its accomplishment sufficiently understood.

It is the Divine necessity of dying which is prominent in the later teaching of the Lord, beginning from that crisis of the ministry which is emphatically presented in all the Synoptics (Matthew 16:21-28, Mark 8:31 to Mark 9:1, Luke 9:22-27). He sets His face towards it as the end (Luke 22:37 [cf. Isaiah 53:12] τελεσθῆναι and τέλος ἕχει, cf. John 19:28; John 19:30), the goal to which His whole life moves. And in the hour when the things concerning Him had fulfilment, He singled out the leading feature in the portrait of the Servant as that which above all others fastened its application upon Himself. ‘I say unto you that this which is written must be fulfilled in me, And he was reckoned with transgressors.’ The Prophet, who at the outset of His ministry read in the synagogue of Nazareth the words foreshadowing the deliverance which was to issue in the Kingdom of God (Luke 4:18-19 = Isaiah 61:1-2), knew that for Himself it meant the Man of Sorrows, led like the lamb of the Hebrew ritual to the slaughter, and in the power of His healing wounds making intercession for the transgressors of His people (Isaiah 53; for the connexion with the Ceremonial Law see Davidson, OT Prophecy, ch. xxii) There is thus no inconsistency between the language of Jesus as recorded in the Synoptics and those utterances of the Fourth Gospel which seem to remove the Passion and Death from the immediate historical conditions, and to represent them as the decision of eternal issues by the voluntary activity of the Divine Sufferer, who lays down His life of Himself and judges the prince of this world on the uplifted throne of the Cross (John 3:14; John 10:17-18; John 12:31-33; John 14:30; John 16:11; John 16:33).

These considerations give peculiar point to the declaration which, according to both St. Matthew and St. Mark, stands in close relation to the request of the sons of Zebedee for eminent places in the Messianic kingdom. Messiah’s kingship is based on service which takes specific form in the death He goes to accomplish—‘The Son of Man came to give his life a ransom for many’—a substitution which made His soul an offering for sin, fulfilling all that was foreshadowed not only in the redemption of the people from Egypt, but also in the redemptions of the Ceremonial Law (Mark 10:45, Matthew 20:28 λύτρον ἀντί, not ὑπέρ, cf. ἀντίλυτρον 1 Timothy 2:6, λυτρώσηται Titus 2:14, ἑλυτρώθητε 1 Peter 1:18, where also the τίμιον αἶμα of Christ is the price; Isaiah 53:10, 2 Samuel 7:23, Exodus 13:13, Numbers 18:15, cf. Psalms 49:8).

That Jesus should thus have recognized the true significance of His death as a fact possessing not an accidental but an inherent worth, is not inconsistent with a due acknowledgment of the historical circumstances which became its efficient cause. With regard to the prophecy of Jehovah’s Servant, it must be remembered that the Sufferer, though offering a sacrifice for sin of which the liturgical oblation is the type, yet incurs pain and death only through setting his face as a flint (Isaiah 50:4-9) in maintaining truth and righteousness under conditions which inevitably made this witness a martyrdom. And it would be misreading the phenomena of the Gospel narrative to represent the propitiatory death of Christ as wantonly sought by our Lord in a manner inconsistent with the dictates of common morality. The Cross could not have been mediatorial if Jesus had been an official and conventional Messiah reaching Calvary by any other road than that which in the first instance made Him one with His brethren (Hebrews 2:10-18) in the pursuit of His own moral end. His death, which affects the conscience (Hebrews 9:14; Hebrews 10:22), is not represented as self-immolation. He ‘witnessed before Pontius Pilate a good confession’ (1 Timothy 6:13, cf. ‘the faithful witness,’ Revelation 1:5; Revelation 3:14). His mission being to establish the kingdom upon a basis of surrender (Matthew 20:28, John 13:4; John 13:13-15), upon a gospel preached to the poor (Luke 4:18) by one who is Himself lowly in heart (Matthew 11:29), He must not shrink till He send forth judgment unto victory (Matthew 12:20). When there is no more risk of quenching the smoking flax by appearing openly as the uncompromising foe of the hierarchy, He recognizes that His hour is come (John 12:23; John 17:1 al., Mark 14:41, cf. John 2:4, Luke 22:53), changing the method of His discourse so that they who reject Him may perceive that He speaks of them (Matthew 21:45), and without further parley join the inevitable issue. There is, however, no warrant for Mr. F. W. Newman’s theory, that Jesus’ denunciation of scribes and Pharisees was a deliberate provocation of judicial murder; though it must be remarked that, assuming the knowledge of power to rise again the third day, we could not judge even such an action entirely by the ordinary standard. Still, if the one necessity of the case was a sacrificial death upon the stage of history, the event might have been accomplished amid accessories more suggestive of ritual than the Crucifixion. But this would have been something less than a moral act, whereas the NT shows the propitiation wrought by Jesus Christ ‘the righteous’ (1 John 2:1, Acts 3:14; Acts 7:52; Acts 22:14) to have been something more. The Agony in the Garden, followed by the Seven Words from the Cross, attests the naturalness of the Passion as suffering, though voluntarily endured, yet inflicted from without. It is only after the Resurrection that the human actors in the tragedy fall out of sight, and the Cross can be presented absolutely as that which it behoved the Christ to suffer, so entering into His glory (Luke 24:26).

From what has been already said, it follows that an adequate soteriology, or theology of the Atonement which is genuinely evangelical, must be the expression of a spiritual experience resting upon Christ’s death as the expiation of sin. With a few notable exceptions, foremost among them Dr. R. W. Dale, the trend of modern theology, since the publication of M’Leod Campbell’s treatise on The Nature of the Atonement, has been on the whole to develop the doctrine on its ethical side, and to find its spiritual principle either in the sinless penitence or the perfect obedience of Jesus (e.g. Westcott, Wilson, Moberly, Scott Lidgett). The tendency of these writings has been, while dissipating theories of a non-moral ‘transaction,’ to obscure to a greater or less extent ‘the offering of the body of Christ,’ and to give an insufficient value to the Biblical account of His death as an objective act of propitiation addressed to the Father by the incarnate Son. No doubt English writers for the most part maintain that the ‘penitence’ and obedience of Christ are imparted by grace to the believer. But between the obedience and the grace, as that which gives meaning to both, NT theology places the substitutionary sacrifice.

St. Peter connects obedience with the ‘sprinkling of the blood of Christ’ (1 Peter 1:2; 1 Peter 1:14; 1 Peter 1:18-19) and the sin-bearing of the tree (1 Peter 2:24). Involving as these expressions do ‘the blood of the covenant’ (Exodus 24:6-8, Leviticus 16:14-19; Leviticus 17:11-12, Zechariah 9:11; cf. Hebrews 10:29; Hebrews 13:20, and, for the ‘new covenant,’ Jeremiah 31:31-34; Jeremiah 33:8, Ezekiel 36:26), and the laying of hands upon the head of the sin-offering (Leviticus 16:21, cf. Isaiah 53:6; the whole passage [Isaiah 53:4-7] should be carefully compared with 1 Peter 2:21-25, and the influence of the Levitical code in moulding language and ideas noted), both familiar conceptions of the Hebrew ritual, they point undoubtedly to a real transfer of guilt, a genuine substitution, as the true meaning of the ‘glad tidings’ (1 Peter 1:12), of which the Apostle was the witness (1 Peter 5:1). The Christian society is the ‘people of God’s own possession’ (1 Peter 2:9-10), ransomed and brought into covenant by the precious blood. The obedience and sufferings of Christians are not, therefore, redemptive, for such are already dead to sin (1 Peter 2:24).

With this the Johannine writings agree. Fellowship with God is the eternal life which Christians enjoy, but this mystical union* [Note: The unio mystica must not be confounded with atonement by pressing the etymology of the latter word (at-one-ment), the Pauline equivalent of which (καταλλαγή) St. John never uses. According to its proper meaning, the verb ‘atone’ is not transitive, but is followed by the preposition ‘for.’ Mr. Inge in Contentio Veritatis constantly ignores this.] is effected by the purifying blood of Jesus His Son (1 John 1:7), in whom is forgiveness (1 John 1:9-10 1 John 2:1, 1 John 3:5), who is the propitiation for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2, 1 John 4:19, cf. 1 John 5:6 [John 19:34], John 4:42; John 11:51, Romans 3:25 ἱλαστήριον). The antecedent power of Christ’s death is thus explained by the sacrificial term ἱλασμός to be an effectual means for turning away the wrath of God, which the impressive imagery of the Apocalypse represents as resting upon the wicked (Revelation 6:16-17; Revelation 14:19 and passim). Nowhere is the significant figure of the Lamb more emphatically applied to Christ than in the Johannine books (John 1:29; John 1:36; John 19:36 [Exodus 12:46], the Apocalypse, passim).

With the Apostle Paul we reach the fullest statement of the doctrine of the Atonement. And here it must be noted that the Epistles of the first imprisonment, which develop the teaching concerning the Person of Christ in His eternal relation to the Universe and the Church, follow those which give detailed expression to the reconciliation of believers to God through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus. It would seem, therefore, that theologians like Westcott, who subordinate redemption to the Incarnation, are less true to Christian experience than those who reach the Incarnation through the Atonement. For St. Paul the Cross in its twofold aspect of Death and Resurrection is the central fact which forms the subject of his gospel (1 Corinthians 1:18; 1 Corinthians 1:23; 1 Corinthians 2:2, Galatians 5:11, 1 Timothy 2:5-7), the basis of Baptism (see above) and of the Eucharist (see above), the source of the forgiveness of sins (Colossians 2:13-14; cf. Colossians 3:12, Ephesians 4:32), the motive of Christian morality (Romans 6:4), the spring of faith (1 Corinthians 12:3, cf. Romans 10:9) and of spiritual life (2 Corinthians 4:10-11, Galatians 2:20), and the assurance of immortality (2 Timothy 1:10). To this fact there is a corresponding personal experience, so that baptism may be represented as involving an identification of the believer with his Lord so intimate that not only is the figure of putting on Christ as a garment felt to be appropriate to the initiatory Christian rite (see above), but His death, burial, and resurrection are regarded as reproduced in the believer (see above). From the Cross the Christian life takes its specific complexion, so that ‘the new man created in righteousness’ (Ephesians 4:24) becomes ‘crucified unto the world’ (Galatians 6:14), branded in the body with the marks of the Lord Jesus (Galatians 6:17); glories in the Cross (Galatians 6:14); and fills up that which is lacking in the sufferings of Christ (Colossians 1:24). Obviously, therefore, the interpretation of this fact and its consequent experience is from the point of view of St. Paul the primary task of the Christian theologian.

The interpretative word used in St. Paul’s soteriology is καταλλαγή, ‘reconciliation’ (Romans 5:11 Authorized Version ‘atonement’), the root idea of which is restoration of personal relations between parties hitherto estranged. This involves the explanation of the ‘catastrophe in human life,’ sufficiently evident in common experience but inexplicable apart from the Hebrew realization of the personal God, which is set forth in Romans 1:18-28 as the rebellion of the unthankful human will against the claim of the Divine Creator (Romans 1:21). The need is universal (Romans 3:9; Romans 3:23);* [Note: Notice that St. Paul more Hebraico states sin as a universal fact—‘all have sinned’—without developing a theory by physical analogy. No amount of ‘originality’ in sin detracts from full moral responsibility towards God in the individual. Mr. Tennant in his Hulsean Lectures speaks as though the traditional doctrine of sin neutralized personal disobedience; but this is not the case, as a right understanding of St. Paul’s doctrine of reconciliation in Christ will show.] but the later Augustinian terminology, which, in spite of Luther’s return to a fuller Paulinism, still dominates the language even of Protestant divinity, tends by the use of such figures as ‘vice’ (vitium), ‘flaw,’ ‘disease,’ to palliate the exceeding sinfulness of sin and to obscure the personal significance of the Cross, which is always uppermost in St. Paul. Three points must be noted.

1. Christ died ‘to reconcile the Father to us.’—This phrase, if not strictly Biblical, conveys the essential idea of Scripture, which is quite obscured by the statement that His death reconciles men to God. Modern teachers, concerned to vindicate the love of God, have inclined to represent the Cross as intended to produce merely a change in the moral life of the sinner. Not only is this inconsistent with the idea of reconciliation, but St. Paul, while, with the NT generally, always representing the work of Christ as arising in the gracious will of the Father (2 Corinthians 5:18-19, Romans 5:8; Romans 8:32, Colossians 1:19-20, Ephesians 1:9-10, 1 Thessalonians 5:9, Titus 3:4; cf. 1 Peter 1:3, John 3:16 and passim, 1 John 3:1), yet invariably regards it as the loving act (2 Corinthians 5:14; 2 Corinthians 8:9, Galatians 1:4; Galatians 2:20, Romans 8:37, Ephesians 5:2, cf. John 10:11, Revelation 1:5) of a mediator (1 Timothy 2:5-6, cf. Hebrews 9:15), producing in the first instance a change in God’s attitude towards the sinner (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9, Romans 8:1; cf. Romans 8:7-8), turning away wrath (1 Thessalonians 1:10, Romans 5:9), removing trespasses (2 Corinthians 5:19), and providing a channel through which God might forgive sins as an act not only of mercy but of justice (Romans 3:26).

It is perhaps unnecessary to argue with the formality which sets up an abstract Law* [Note: Such theories, like the attempt of Anselm in Cur Deus Homo to express the Atonement in terms of the feudal idea of society dominant in the Middle Age, to which they are akin, no doubt perform useful service in freeing the teaching of Scripture from unwarrantable and misleading accretions, but they are a method of expressing rather than of explaining the problem.] to which even God must do homage. At this point even Dale becomes somewhat cumbrous. But it is obvious that even the parable of the Prodigal Son would not ring true in human ears unless it was for ever interpreted by a transaction which gives due weight to the enormity of a sin that entailed the sacrifice of the Father’s only Son. Nor would St. Paul have succeeded in commending the death of Christ to the Christian conscience save by insisting that only thus could God reconcile a world unto Himself and be alike just and the justifier of the believer.

2. The death of Christ is the act of God (Titus 2:13 [cf. 2 Peter 1:1], Romans 1:4, 2 Corinthians 4:4, Colossians 1:15, Philippians 2:6, Romans 9:5 (?), Acts 20:28).—‘It is at this point in the last resort that we become convinced of the deity of Christ’ (Denney). ‘God was in Christ,’ who was ‘marked off as the Son of God by the resurrection.’ Grace is always in St. Paul the free act of God’s favour (Romans 3:24; Romans 4:4-5 al.), and it is ‘the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Romans 5:15; Romans 16:20, 2 Corinthians 8:9; 2 Corinthians 13:14), whereby we have been enriched. The love of Christ which constrains us, because He died for all, is Divine (2 Corinthians 5:14; 2 Corinthians 5:19-20 ‘on behalf of Christ’ = ‘as though God were entreating by us’). The position of the justified sinner is that of a restored sonship, because his redemption from first to last is the action towards him of the eternal God Himself. His right relation to the Father is witnessed by, or rather is, the presence of the Spirit of the Son ‘sent forth’ into his heart by that same God who had ‘sent forth’ the Son Himself to work out a redemption under the conditions which imposed this necessity of love upon the paternal heart of God (Galatians 4:4-6). When this is once apprehended, the objections to a doctrine of substitution (‘ego sum peccatum tuum, tu es justitia mea’—2 Corinthians 5:21) are seen to have no application in fact. They are valid only if the activity of the Mediator is separated sharply from that of the Father. Such a distinction is neither Pauline nor Christian. The threefoldness of God is a revelation incidental to ‘the unfolding of the work of Divine Atonement’ (see Moberly, Atonement and Personality, ch. viii). With St. Paul, as with St. John, it is the Father who is revealed in the Son (see above), whose work is manifest in the work of Christ. Redemption is parallel to Creation (Galatians 6:15, Colossians 1:18, Ephesians 1:10, 1 Corinthians 15:20-28; 1 Corinthians 15:45; cf. John 1:1-18, Revelation 21:1; Revelation 21:5). If the morality of the latter lies in the fact that ‘God saw that it was good,’ the justice of the former is witnessed not only by the ‘new creation’ but by the infinite worth of the Son (1 Corinthians 6:20), whom God gave up for us all and who endured the Cross.

3. Reconciliation is antecedent to the renewal of the individual.—This is almost wholly ignored in modern German theology, which thereby goes far to forfeit its claim to be a true development of Lutheran teaching, losing touch with the NT generally and especially with St. Paul. Ritschl, for example, for whom the statement that ‘Christ expiated sin by His passion’ has ‘very little warrant in the Biblical circle of thought,’ regards the death of Jesus merely as ‘the summary expression of the fact that Christ maintained His religious unity with God,’ and places the forgiveness of sins in the ‘effective union’ of believers with God in that Divine kingdom which it was the vocation of Jesus to found (Justification and Reconciliation, English translation ch. viii). Now, while Ritschl thus recovers a truly Apostolic conception in the Kingdom of God as the primary object of reconciliation (see below), he does so only at the expense of the ‘finished work,’ which is the glory of all true evangelicalism. St. Paul in particular leaves no doubt as to the objective character of the ‘reconciliation’ wrought by Christ, which stands complete before the preaching whereby comes hearing and faith. ‘While we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son’ (Romans 5:10; cf. Romans 5:6; cf. Romans 5:8-9, Colossians 1:21-22). He has previously shown (Romans 3:24-26) that the vindication of God’s righteousness (ἔνδειξις τῆς δικαιοσύνης αὐτοῦ), which conscience requires as a condition of the acquittal of sinners, has already been given in the redemption wrought by Christ, involving as it did the bloodshedding of the Son of God, which constituted the Redeemer a propitiation for sin. The equivalence adumbrated by the symbolic transfer of guilt to the head of the victim was consummated in Christ (Romans 8:3, 2 Corinthians 5:21, Galatians 3:13 cf. Leviticus 16:5 also Hebrews, passim, see below). The spectacle of such a substitution—not one man redeeming his brother, but God putting Himself in the sinner’s place—was the manifestation of a Divine righteousness to which Law and Prophets, the Hebrew dispensation, had witnessed (Romans 3:21). In Christ crucified that righteousness is complete, needing no human condition (ἔργον) to perfect it, but offered freely to him that believeth on the justifier of the ungodly, so that his faith can be reckoned instead of righteousness,* [Note: Much harm has resulted from insisting on the ‘forensic’ character of this justification. No doubt δικαιόω has associations of the law court; but it is as absurd to suppose that legal fictions were present to the mind of St. Paul as to ascribe these ideas to the compiler of Genesis (Genesis 15:6) or the author of the thirty-second Psalm (Psalms 32:2). The word expresses only the free forgiveness of the Father’s love.] because through it the sinner appropriates Christ’s finished work and becomes ‘the righteousness of God in him’ (2 Corinthians 5:21). Here the Atonement, as St. Paul interprets it, leads to the dev


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Atonement (2)'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/a/atonement-2.html. 1906-1918.

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Thursday, May 23rd, 2019
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