The GOSPEL TRUTH
ATONEMENT IN CHRIST
JOHN MILEY, D.D.
THEORIES OF ATONEMENT.I. PRELIMINARY.1. Earlier Views.
2. Scientific Treatment.
3. Popular Number of Theories.
4. Scientific Enumeration.
5. Only two Theories.
II. SUMMARY REVIEW.1. Theory of Vicarious Repentance.
2. Theory of Redemption by Love.
4. Realistic Theory.
5. Mystical Theory.
6. Middle Theory.
7. Conditional Penal Substitution.
8. Three Leading Theories.
THEORIES OF ATONEMENT.
1. Earlier Views.
In the earlier history of the Church the redemption in Christ was received and given forth rather as a fact than as a doctrine. It was. then, as it must ever be, the central truth of the Gospel. Christ was every-where proclaimed as a Saviour through his sacrificial death. Forgiveness and salvation were freely offered in his blood. But the great truth had its proclamation in the terms of Scripture rather than in the formulas of doctrine. This was proper, as it was natural. It is proper now, and will ever be so. Redemption, in all the preciousness of its truth and grace, has a living association with its own Scripture terms; and a disregard for this connection could not be other than a serious detriment. There were early utterances that well accord with strictly doctrinal views; still there was no formal construction of a doctrine.
Then came the singular notion of redemption by a ransom to Satan. It is not agreed when, nor with whom, it originated. Some find in Irenæus, of the second century, its first representative, while others would entirely clear him of such a view. It certainly has a representative in the very gifted but speculative Origen, of the third century. Nor did it run its career without finding entertainment in the great and versatile mind of Augustine. It flourished in the Patristic period, and held its position until the beginning of the Scholastic, or the time of Anselm, late in the eleventh century.
This very strange opinion was, probably, first suggested by certain texts of Scripture which represent us as in captivity or bondage to Satan, and our redemption by Christ as a deliverance from his possession and power. These representations may have suggested the idea of a right to us in Satan--such a right as that in which slaves or captives in war were held. He had conquered us, and brought us into his possession. In the prevalent ideas of the time this was a valid and rightful possession. Hence, probably, came the idea of the death of Christ as a ransom to Satan for the canceling of this claim.
The view has a commercial sense--such as at a later period constituted a phase of the theory of Satisfaction, but wherein the ransom is paid to God. But this Patristic scheme could not be permanent, and the marvel is that it continued so long. It is so incongruous to all cardinal facts so related to the atonement as to be decisive of its nature, that its dismission was a necessary result of their intelligent apprehension.
2. Scientific Treatment.
The treatment of the atonement in a scientific, or more exact doctrinal manner, really began with Anselm, late in the eleventh century. His book, though but a small one, is not improperly characterized as an "epoch-making book." It fell far short of controlling the doctrine of the Church on the atonement, yet it exerted a strong influence upon after discussions and opinions, whether accordant or in dissent. It furnished, though not in the full scientific sense usually claimed, a basis for the doctrine of Satisfaction as constructed in the Reformed soteriology. Reviews of the scheme of Anselm are so common to histories of doctrine, systems of theology, and monographic discussions of atonement, that there is little need of special reference.
We question neither the intellectual strength nor the intense religious earnestness of Anselm. And both are deeply wrought into his "Cur Deus Homo." That the usual estimate of his work greatly exaggerates the scientific result we as little question. Such exaggeration is specially with his more sympathetic reviewers. Dr. Shedd may be given as an instance. The excess of merit, especially in its scientific phase, ascribed to the treatise of Anselm, must be apparent to any one upon a proper comparison in the case.
Anselm emphasizes certain principles or facts as fundamental, and makes them the ground of his doctrine of atonement. Sin is the withholding from God his rightful claim, and is to him, on account of his character, an infinite wrong. The sinner is thus brought into an infinite indebtedness to the divine honor. This debt must be paid. God must not and cannot surrender his own personal right and honor, as he would do in a mere gratuitous forgiveness. The sinner never can, by any personal conduct, satisfy this claim. Therefore he must suffer the full punishment of his sins, or, as the only alternative satisfaction must be rendered by another.
It follows that the only salvation is through the compensatory service of a divine Mediator. In this exigency the Son of God, in compassion for perishing sinners, was incarnated in their nature, and in their behalf gave himself up in holy obedience and suffering to the Father. On account of his theanthropic character, his obedience and death are a full compensation to the violated honor of God, and, therefore, a true and sufficient ground of forgiveness.
But neither essential element of the Satisfaction atonement, especially as scientifically wrought into this doctrine, is distinctly given by Anselm. There is wanting both the fact of substitution and of imputation as scientifically linked in the Reformed doctrine.
By common consent, the substitutive office of the active obedience of Christ is not in the scheme of Anselm.
This view was first opened by Thomas Aquinas, but long waited for its completion.
Nor did Anselm maintain the distinct view of penal substitution in redemption. He is so credited, but when interpreted after the ideas so fully wrought into the Reformed soteriology. Certain avowed principles respecting the nature of sin and the necessity for divine satisfaction, in case of forgiveness, might imply a penal substitution, and do so imply in the doctrine of Satisfaction--a fact which gives occasion and currency to such interpretation of Anselm. But he never gave them such a meaning, nor found in penal substitution their necessary implication. He does assert that punishment or satisfaction must follow every sin: "Necesse est ut omne peccatum satisfactio aut poena sequatur." Here, however, punishment and satisfaction are discriminated and taken as alternately necessary, while, in the doctrine of Satisfaction the punishment of sin has no alternative. It is the only possible satisfaction of justice, and the two terms are really one in meaning; the ministry of justice varying only by an exchange of penal subjects, not in the execution of penalty. Anselm propounded no such doctrine of satisfaction by penal substitution. Nor are we without the support of good authority in so writing.
Anselm represents the mediation of Christ in holy obedience and suffering as infinitely meritorious, and, therefore, as justly entitled to an infinitely great reward. But as an absolutely perfect being, and in possession of all blessedness, he was not himself properly rewardable: therefore the merited reward may, and on his preference should, go to sinners in forgiveness and salvation. But the doctrine, in its principles and structure, is very different from the doctrine of Satisfaction, and in some of its facts really very like the Middle theory.
3. Popular Number of Theories.
Historically, or in popular enumeration, theories of atonement are many, nor is this strange. The subject is one of the profoundest. The facts which it concerns are of stupendous character. Its relations to the great questions of theology and philosophy are vitally intimate. In scientific treatment it should be accordant to the system of doctrines into which it is wrought, and to the philosophy in which the system is grounded. Further, some minds are given to speculation and to fanciful views, or, for a lack of proper analysis and construction, to take some one fact--perhaps a merely incidental one--for the whole truth, while others would timidly avoid the deeper principles of the question. In such facts we have reason enough for many theories.
Yet authors widely differ respecting the number. Dr. Hodge enumerates five, but omits material modifications, while yet bringing them fully into his discussion. Professor Crawford names thirteen theories as substitutes for what he chooses to call the Catholic doctrine the Calvinistic doctrine of Satisfaction. Then he adds the later theory of Dr. Bushnell, thus giving us in all fifteen. The Rev. Alford Cave names as many. Such large enumeration, however is superficial, and made with little regard to analysis and scientific classification. In the same manner the number might be carried much higher, as must be apparent to any one familiar with the current of opinion on the redemptive work of Christ.
4. Scientific Enumeration.
The truth to be interpreted in the doctrine of atonement is, the work of Christ in our salvation. But he can save us only by some work or influence within us, or with God for us, or by both. Such work or influence, whatever it is, must answer to the need in the case. Some need there must be, else a redemptive mediation has neither place nor office. Many who deny an absolute need will yet admit a relative one, and so urgent as to give propriety and value to a redemptive economy.
Two facts vitally concern the question of need, respecting which there should be a common agreement: one, that we are sinful and of sinful tendency; the other, that we can be saved only in a deliverance from sin and in a moral harmony with God. Without such facts there is no place for the redemptive work of Christ and no saving office which he can fulfill.
What, then, is the need for the redemptive mediation of Christ in a salvation so realized? Why cannot man achieve his own deliverance from sin and harmonize himself with God? Why cannot God achieve both without a mediation in Christ? Every theory of atonement that may properly be called such, must answer to these questions. Every theory must, in logical consistency, accord with the answer given. The true theory will be found in accord with the true answer.
We thus have principles whereby we may test theories, and determine their legitimacy or truth. Some give a determining position to one fact in the need, some to another. Some find all the need in the moral disabilities of man; others find all in God. Every theory must take its place in a scientific classification according to the dominant fact of need which it alleges.
By these same principles we may greatly reduce the popular number of theories--such as given by Professor Crawford. Such reduction is specially possible respecting theories wholly grounded in certain disabilities of our moral state. The subjective facts of moral disability, out of which the need for a redemptive mediation is alleged to arise, may be numerically many, and yet so one in kind that one objective law of redemptive help will answer for all. And the law of redemptive help, though revealed in many facts, may still be one law, and working only in one mode. Hence, theories of atonement popularly numbered after such many facts, may all be reduced to unity under one generic fact of moral need, or under one generic law of redemptive help. In a like mode there may be a reduction, though not an equal one, of theories which ground the necessity for an atonement in the requirements of the divine nature. In truth, the real necessity for an atonement in Christ arises in the nature of God, especially in his justice, and gives place for only two legitimate theories --two alternatively, one of which must be the true theory.
For illustration, we may apply these principles of classification and reduction to theories, popularly given as such, which are grounded simply in a need arising out of moral disabilities in us. The theories which we shall name in the illustration are in fact but different phases of the theory of Moral influence.
One theory is, that Christ died as a martyr to his prophetic mission, and for the confirmation of the lessons of moral and religious truth which he gave to the world. This is the Marturial theory. It assumes our ignorance and our need of higher spiritual truth, and offers us redemptive help in Christ only through the moral influence of the lessons of higher religious truth which he gave.
In another view, the death of Christ fulfilled its chief office as subservient to his resurrection, that he might thereby more fully disclose and verify the reality of a future life. Such disclosure is for the sake of its helpful religious influence in the present life. Men are strongly propense to a mere secular life. They greatly need, therefore, the practical influence of a revealed future life. Such help Christ brings through his resurrection, for which his death served as the prerequisite.
He died as an example of self-sacrificing devotion to the good of others. He so died that through the moral force of so impressive a lesson we might be led into a life of disinterested benevolence. Man is selfish and needs such an example of self-sacrificing devotion to the good of others as Christ gives. Such are the facts which this view emphasizes. But all the redemptive help which it represents is in the practical force of a moral lesson.
In another scheme the mission and work of Christ were for the manifestation of God as among men in an incarnation; that he might "show us the Father" in his sympathy and forgiving grace. Man lacks faith, is in doubt, is in a servile fear of God, and suffers the moral paralysis of such states of mind. He needs encouragement, assurance of the kindness and love of God. This also is redemptive help only through the salutary influence of a moral lesson.
Such, indeed, are all the popularly named theories which ground the need of a mediatorial economy merely in our own moral disabilities. If any exception should be made, it is in the case of the Realistic and Mystical schemes, in which, however, the chief difference is in the mode of redemptive help. But in all that class of which we have given examples, the need, revealed in many variant facts, is yet one; and the redemptive help, coming in various forms, is operative only in one mode. Man is ignorant, and needs higher religious truth; of feeble motivity to duty, and needs its lessons in a more impressive form; of strong secular tendency, and needs the practical force of a revealed future life; selfish, and needs the helpful example of self-sacrificing love; in a servile fear of God, and needs the assurance of his fatherly kindness. So Christ comes in all these forms of needed help. But in the deeper sense the need is one, and the redemptive help is one. And these theories, many in popular enumeration, are all one theory--the theory of Moral influence. Its claims will be considered a little further on. For the present it may be said, that no issue will be joined respecting either such need in us or such help in Christ as here alleged. But such is not the real necessity for an atonement, and such is not the true atonement.
Any further application of these principles, whereby we may test and classify the various interpretations of the redemptive mediation of Christ, will be made in connection with our review of theories.
5. Only two Theories.
In a strict or scientific sense, there are but two theories of atonement. We have seen how many in popular enumeration are reducible to the one theory of Moral influence. Others, as will appear in this review, are so void of essential facts that they hold no rightful place as theories. Nor is the scheme of Moral influence in any strict sense a theory of atonement, because it neither answers to the real necessity in the case nor admits an objective ground of forgiveness in the mediation of Christ.
Nor can there be more than two theories. This limitation is determined by the law of a necessary correlation between the necessity for an atonement, and the nature of the atonement as answering to that necessity. This fact we have, that the vicarious sufferings of Christ are an objective ground of the divine forgiveness. There is a necessity for such a ground; his sufferings are an atonement only as they answer to this necessity. Hence the nature of the atonement is determined by the nature of its necessity. Now this necessity must lie either in the requirement of an absolute justice which must punish sin, or in the rectoral office of justice as an obligation to conserve the interest of moral government. There can be no other necessity for an atonement as an objective ground of forgiveness. Nor does any scheme of a real atonement in Christ either represent or imply another. Thus there is place for two theories, but only two. There is place for a theory of Absolute Substitution, according to which the redemptive sufferings of Christ were strictly penal, and the fulfillment of an absolute obligation of justice in the punishment of sin. This is the theory of Satisfaction, and answers to a necessity in the first sense given. There is also place for a theory of Conditional Substitution, according to which the redemptive sufferings of Christ were not the punishment of sin, but such a substitute for the rectoral office of penalty as renders forgiveness, on proper conditions, consistent with the requirements of moral government. This answers to a necessity in the second sense given, and accords with the deeper principles of the Governmental theory. The truth of atonement must be with the one or the other of these theories.
II. SUMMARY REVIEW.
Most of the schemes noticed in this section we call theories only after popular usage. They are not strictly such. While some have peculiar phases or elements, they are mostly based on the principles of the Moral theory. We shall attempt but a summary review of them. It will suffice to notice their leading facts, to ascertain the nature of the redemption in Christ which they represent, and to determine their place in a proper classification. A few words may be added upon their respective claims.
1. Theory of Vicarious Repentance.
We may so designate a scheme specially represented by Dr. John M'Leod Campbell. It is grounded in the idea of the profoundest identification of Christ with humanity in the incarnation. Therein he takes our experiences into his own consciousness; enters into the deepest sympathy with us, even in our sense of sin and of the divine displeasure. Thus he takes upon his own soul the burden and sorrow of our sins, and makes the truest, deepest confession of their demerit and of the just displeasure of God against them. Divine justice is therewith satisfied and we are forgiven. "This confession, as to its own nature, must have been a perfect Amen in humanity to the judgment of God on the sin of man." "He who so responds to the divine wrath against sin, saying, 'Thou art righteous, O Lord, who judgest so,' is necessarily receiving the full apprehension and realization of that wrath, as well as of that sin against which it comes into his soul and spirit, into the bosom of the divine humanity, and, so receiving it, he responds to it with a perfect response--a response from the depths of that divine humanity--and in that perfect response he absorbs it. For that response has all the elements of a perfect repentance in humanity for all the sin of man; a perfect sorrow; a perfect contrition; all the elements of such a repentance, and that in absolute perfection; all, except the personal consciousness of sin; and by that perfect response in Amen to the mind of God in relation to sin is the wrath of God rightly met, and that is accorded to divine justice which is its due and could alone satisfy it."
This scheme recognizes the demerit of sin and a retributive justice in God. It is a scheme of vicarious atonement, but in entire dissent from the theory of Satisfaction, as it denies even the possibility of penal substitution. It clearly holds repentance to be all that justice requires as the ground of forgiveness. In this it dissents from both the Anselmic and Grotian theories, and identifies itself with the Socinian. It admits no necessity for an objective atonement, either in an absolute penal justice or in the interest of moral government. Any necessity for redemptive help which the scheme may consistently allow, must be grounded in an inability in us to a true repentance. If a vicarious repentance is sufficient for our forgiveness, so must be a true repentance in us. This fact also classes the scheme with the Moral theory.
This special view is open to many objections. The Scriptures give it no support. It will not interpret the explicit terms of atonement, nor answer to the real necessity for one. Nor is there less difficulty in the notion of a vicarious repentance than in that of vicarious punishment. Then the logical sequence of such a vicarious repentance, with its attributed effects, is the releasement of all from the requirement of repentance, and the unconditional forgiveness of all.
2. Theory of Redemption by Love.
It is according to the Scriptures that our redemption has its original in the love of God. But this fact does not determine the nature of such redemption, nor whether it be an objective ground of forgiveness originating in the divine love, or merely the moral influence of its manifestation in Christ, operative as a subduing and reconciling power in the soul. Dr. Young is a special exponent of the latter view. There is really very little in his scheme peculiar to himself. This is specially true of its constituent facts. Any peculiarity lies rather in their combination and in the manner of their expression. The author writes with perspicuity and force. His principles are clearly given. It is easy to determine and classify his scheme.
Certain facts are postulated respecting spiritual laws. Death is the necessary consequence of sin, as life is of holiness. The only salvation, therefore, is in the destruction of sin as a subjective fact. This is the work of the redemption in Christ. "The laws of nature are owing solely to the will and fiat of the Creator. He ordained them, and had such been his pleasure they might have been altered in ten thousand ways. But the laws of the spiritual universe do not depend even on the highest will. The great God did not make them; they are eternal as he is. The great God cannot repeal them; they are immutable as he is." "Without aid from any quarter they avenge themselves, and exact, and continue without fail to exact, so long as the evil remains, the amount of penalty--visible and invisible--to the veriest jot and tittle which the deed of violation deserves." "No term of punishment is fixed, none can be fixed. One thing, and one thing only, determines the duration of the punishment, and that is the continuance of evil in the soul. The evil continuing, its attendant penalty is a necessity, which even God could not conquer." "There is one, but there is only one, way in which the tremendous doom of the sinful soul can be escaped, in consistency with the great laws of the spiritual universe. If sin were cast out, the death which issues solely from sin would be effectually prevented."
The theory of redemption is from facts so stated. There is no need of an objective ground of forgiveness. The whole need is for a moral force working in the soul itself, and in a manner to destroy the power of subjective evil. All this is provided for in the manifestation of the divine love in the sacrifice of the cross. Such is God's method of redemption. "By the one true sacrifice of Christ, an act of divine self-sacrifice by incarnate, crucified love, he aims a blow at the root of evil within man's heart.... He breaks the hard heart by the overwhelming pressure of pure, almighty mercy, in our Lord Jesus Christ."
We specially object to the one-sided redemption so constructed. We fully accept the postulates respecting spiritual laws as involving an absolute distinction between holiness and sin; though we do not admit the extreme view of their self-execution, which might dispense with a moral government as under an actual divine administration. God ever rules in the moral realm, and dispenses rewards to both holiness and sin. The necessity of a deliverance from sin as a subjective evil in order to salvation, we have already affirmed. Indeed, it is a very familiar truth. And that the divine love revealed in the sacrifice of the cross has a great office in our moral reformation is also a very familiar truth. It ever finds utterance in Christian exhortation and entreaty to a new spiritual life. And it is an affected or mistaken originality when men give prominence to such truths as original discoveries.
In principle the scheme is one with the theory of Moral influence. The atonement is all in a power of moral motive as embodied in manifested love, and operative only through the soul's own cognition and motivity. Like every such scheme, it utterly fails to answer to the real need of an atonement as revealed in the Scriptures and manifest in the reason of the case. It has no fair interpretation for the many Scripture texts which so directly attribute forgiveness to the redemption in the blood of Christ; nor does it give any proper recognition to the mission of the Spirit through his mediation as the efficient agency in our subjective redemption from sin.
3. Self-propitiation in Self-sacrifice.
We may so formulate the last theory of Dr. Bushnell. In his own account it supplements rather than supersedes his former theory: "The argument of my former treatise was concerned in exhibiting the work of Christ as a reconciling power in men. This was conceived to be the whole import and effect of it. . . . I now propose to substitute for the latter half of my former treatise a different exposition; composing thus a whole of doctrine that comprises both the reconciliation of men to God and of God to men." He still holds the position that the main office of atonement is in its moral influence with men. Now, however, he finds an element in the divine propitiation; but it is not one that identifies his scheme with either the Anselmic or Grotian atonement.
The new theory alleges a similarity of moral sentiment in God and men; and then, from an alleged requisite to a thorough human forgiveness, deduces a law of the divine forgiveness. We have retributive sentiments, disgust, and resentment against the turpitude and wrong of sin. It is admitted that these feelings have an important function in moral discipline, and that they must be treated in subservience to that end. "Filling an office so important, they must not be extirpated under any pretext of forgiveness. They require to be somehow mastered, and somehow to remain. And the supreme art of forgiveness will consist in finding how to embrace the unworthy as if they were not unworthy, or how to have them still on hand when they will not suffer the forgiveness to pass. Which supreme art is the way of propitiation--always concerned in the reconciliation of moral natures separated by injuries."
What, then, is the mode of this supreme art of reconciliation? What is the essential requisite to its realization in a free and full forgiveness? The requirement is from the nature of the hinderance to the forgiveness in our moral resentments against sin; and hence for some measure of self-propitiation which will master these resentments, and issue in a thorough forgiveness. How, then, may this self-propitiation be realized? By some manner of self-sacrifice for the good of those against whom we have such resentments. "Suffering, in short, is with all moral natures the necessary correlate of forgiveness. The man, that is, cannot say, 'I forgive,' and have the saying end it; he must somehow atone both himself and his enemy by a painstaking, rightly so-called, that has power to recast the terms of their relationship." Such is the requisite to forgiveness; some personal sacrifice for the good of the offender, and not only as a power of moral influence with him but also as a necessary self-propitiation toward him in the party offended. Such is the law of human forgiveness.
Then this same law is applied to the divine forgiveness. It is so applied on the ground of a "grand analogy, or almost identity, that subsists between our moral nature and that of God; so that our pathologies and those of God make faithful answer to each other, and he is brought so close to us that almost any thing that occurs in the workings or exigencies of our moral instincts may even be expected in his." It is hence concluded that God has such hinderance to forgiveness in his moral resentments against sin as we have, and, therefore, requires the same measure of self-propitiation. He forgives just as we do. "One kind of forgiveness matches and interprets the other, for they have a common property. They come to the same point when they are genuine, and require also exactly the same preparations and conditions precedent." So God must propitiate himself to forgiveness in cost and suffering for our good. This he did in the sacrifice of the cross. Therein we behold "that sublime act of cost, in which God has bent himself downward, in loss and sorrow, over the hard face of sin, to say, and saying to make good, 'Thy sins are forgiven thee.'"
Many of these facts might be admitted without accepting the doctrine of atonement thereon constructed. The retributive sentiment is with us an original fact, and in its own nature a hinderance to forgiveness. There are resentments against injury and wrong which may strengthen the hinderance. But this law is without uniformity. The retributive feeling rarely exists alone. It is usually in association with other feelings which may either greatly hinder or greatly help any disposition to forgiveness. In a cruel, hard nature the associated feelings may co-operate with the retributive sentiment to prevent all disposition to forgiveness, and equally to prevent all acts of personal kindness which might placate the vindictive resentment; while the tendencies of a generous, kindly nature may be helpful to a forgiving disposition. There are gracious, loving natures, ever ready with a full forgiveness without any self-atonement in charities to the offender going before. The more is this true as the soul is the more deeply imbued with the divine love.
Now the multiformity and contrariety of such facts in men deny to Dr. Bushnell the analogy from which he concludes the necessary means of the divine propitiation and forgiveness. Self-propitiation in a sacrificing charity to the offender is not "with all moral natures the necessary correlate of forgiveness." And with error in the premise, the conclusion is fallacious. But were it even true that this is the only law of forgiveness with men, it would not hence follow that such is the only law of forgiveness with God.
It should be distinctly noted that here we have no concern with any requirement of divine justice as maintained either in the Satisfaction theory or in the Rectoral. Dr. Bushnell rejects both, with all that is vital in them. Nor does he admit any necessity for an atonement on the ground of either. In his scheme the necessity lies in a personal disposition of God as a resentment against the injury and wrong of sin.
It is not in the interest of our criticism upon this view to deny all hinderance in the divine resentment against sin to a propitious disposition; but we confidently affirm such a transcendent love in God as would, in the absence of all other hinderance, wait for no placation of his personal wrath in self-sacrifice, but instantly go forth to the satisfaction of its yearnings in the freest, fullest forgiveness. If men imbued with the divine love will so forgive, much more would the infinite love. The position has the highest a fortiori proof. That divine love which finds its way to forgiveness through the blood of the cross, would suffer no delay by any personal resentment against sin requiring placation in costly ministries to the offender. The grace of redemption in the blood of Christ is infinitely greater than the grace of forgiveness. Hence the free gift of the former in the very state of personal resentment alleged, denies the assumed hinderance therein to the freest, fullest forgiveness.
This scheme, therefore, does not answer to the real necessity for the redemptive mediation of Christ. Nor does it rightly interpret the office of his sacrifice. The necessity concerns the profoundest interest of moral government, and hence arises in the very perfections of God as moral ruler, not in his personal resentment against sin. And the sacrifice of Christ answers to this necessity in atonement for sin, by rendering forgiveness consistent with the interest concerned.
Such a scheme is far deeper and grander than Dr. Bushnell's. Indeed, his is neither profound nor grand. It admits no principle or interest as concerned in forgiveness, the disregard of which would be as contrary to the divine goodness as to the divine justice. In the analogy of certain "pathologies," of personal resentment against sin, the scheme lowers God into the likeness of men; so that in him, as in them, the great hinderance to forgiveness is in these same personal resentments. Thus "one kind of forgiveness matches and interprets the other, for they have a common property. They come to the same point when they are genuine, and require also the same preparations and conditions precedent." The scheme commands no lofty view of the divine goodness. Nor can it give any proper significance to the sacred proclamation of the divine love as the original of the redemptive economy. Such a love is held in no bonds of personal resentment. The scheme has no profound and glorious doctrine of divine love; and, indeed, is found on a true sounding to be shallow.
Its scientific position is easily given. As compared with the Moral theory, it has a somewhat differencing element, which carries the atonement into the reconciliation of God. But this element is insufficient to constitute a really distinct theory. Negatively, and therefore fatally, it is one with the Moral theory. It equally denies all hinderance to forgiveness in the divine justice, whether in its purely retributive function or in its rectoral office. This fact thoroughly differentiates it from both the Satisfaction and Governmental theories, and closely affiliates it with the Moral scheme.
4. Realistic Theory.
Closely kindred to this is the Mystical theory, next to be noticed. Each is multiform, and the two often coalesce. These facts, with a lack of explicit and definitive statement, render it difficult either to apprehend them or to present them in a clear view.
In the Realistic theory some represent Christ as the typical or ideal man, using these terms vaguely, but with the assumption of some manner of relationship between him and us, whereby we are the recipients of a redemptive influence working for our moral renovation and salvation. Others carry the conception of Christ into the notion of a generic humanity, of which we are individuated forms. The notion must answer somewhat to the Scholastic realism, or to the higher Augustinian anthropology, which identifies the human race in a real oneness with Adam. We may instance such a type as represented by Dr. Baird, especially that by Dr. Shedd. But all such realism is utterly groundless, and the sheerest assumption.
Nor did the incarnation bring Christ into any realistic connection with human nature which is in itself redeeming and saving. It did bring him into union with human nature, but into a thoroughly individuated form--as much so as that of any individual man. So far from such a realistic identification, he stands apart from all human nature, except the one individuated form of his incarnation. Hence that incarnation had not in itself the efficiency of redemption, but was in order to an atonement in the death of Christ, that he might come to us severally in the grace of forgiveness, and in the regenerating agency of the Holy Spirit. Such is the Scripture doctrine of atonement and salvation, but which no Realism represents.
5. Mystical Theory.
This theory, as previously stated, is, at least in some of its facts, closely kindred to the Realistic. It is chiefly based in the idea of a real union of Christ with the human soul. In this personal union is realized his redeeming and saving efficiency. So far the theory finds salvation in a subjective sanctification, and makes little account of justification in the forgiveness of sin. Hence it makes slight account of an objective reconciliation in the death of Christ, in comparison of his subjective work of redemption. The weighty objection to this view is, that it gives us a onesided soteriology. It offers the benefits of an objective atonement without the atonement itself.
There is in our salvation a living union with Christ. This is a truth of all evangelical theology. But in the order of nature forgiveness must precede this spiritual union. So the atonement in the blood of Christ as the only ground of forgiveness is a distinct fact from his saving union with us. Strictly, the Mystical scheme omits the atonement proper, and belongs to another part of soteriology.
6. Middle Theory.
The same theory is also called the Arian--not, however, as originating with Arius, but because of an intimate association with an Arian Christology. It holds that forgiveness is granted to repenting sinners for Christ's sake, or in view of his mediatorial service. This is not a forgiveness on the ground of his death as a vicarious atonement for sin, but in reward of his self-sacrificing service in the interest of the human race. Higher ground is thus taken than in the Moral scheme. The mediation of Christ has a higher office than a mere practical lesson: "Not only to give us an example; not only to assure us of remission, or to procure our Lord a commission to publish the forgiveness of sin; but, moreover, to obtain that forgiveness by doing what God in his wisdom and goodness judged fit and expedient to be done in order to the forgiveness of sin; and without which he did not think it fit or expedient to grant the forgiveness of sin."
Yet, with all these facts, the scheme denies a proper substitutional atonement, and hence is unscriptural. It is in very thorough dissent from the theory of Satisfaction. In the maintenance of a fitness, or wise expediency, in the mediation of Christ as the reason of forgiveness, especially in its relation to the interest of moral government, it makes some approach toward the Rectoral view, but in the full exposition falls far short of it. In some features it reminds one of the theory of Anselm, though the two are far from being identical.
Dr. Hill reviews the theory in a clear analysis and statement, deriving his information of it from Dr. Thomas Balguy, Dr. Price, and others. The treatment is with the characteristic fairness and perspicuity of the author. After a lucid statement of the scheme he notes its very serious defects, but at the same time regards it as a well-wrought and beautiful structure.
7. Conditional Penal Substitution.
We do not here appropriate any given formula of atonement, but use terms which properly designate a theory held by not a few. The view is, that the redemptive sufferings of Christ were penally endured in behalf of sinners; that as such they constitute a proper ground of forgiveness; but that the forgiveness is really conditional, as contingent upon the free action of the redeemed. There is present the idea of a necessary retribution of sin, or of a vicarious punishment in order to forgiveness. Or, if there be sin, there must also be punishment: this is the radical idea. Yet the reason of this necessity, and the relation of penal substitution to forgiveness, are not given with any exactness, as in the scheme of Satisfaction.
The penal substitution is conditional, in the sense that the forgiveness provided is contingent upon the free action of sinners respecting the required conditions. They are free to repent and believe, and equally free not to repent and believe. In the former case they are free through enabling grace; in the latter, as not subject to an irresistible power of grace. On a proper repentance and faith they are forgiven on the ground of Christ's vicarious punishment; but on the refusal of such terms they are answerable in penalty for their sins, and none the less on account of his penal substitution.
The scheme is a construction apparently between the Satisfaction and Governmental theories. It rejects the absolute substitution of the former, and adds the penal element to the proper conditional substitution of the latter.
Such, in substance, is the theory of all who hold both the penal quality of the redemptive sufferings of Christ and a real conditionality of forgiveness. Hence, we were entirely correct in representing it as the theory of not a few. Many leading Arminians may be classed in such a scheme; though we think it for them an unscientific position. Arminius himself maintained both penal substitution and a real conditionality of forgiveness. Grotius held both, though with far less explicitness respecting the former. Some of Richard Watson's statements would assign to him the same position. It is the theory maintained in the more recent and very able work of Marshall Randles.
Is there room for such a scheme? There is a broad ground of distinction between the Satisfaction and Governmental theories. But such a difference is not always room for another. Two theories may so appropriate all possible facts and principles of the question, that the truth in the case must be with one or the other. Such are the facts respecting these two theories of atonement. Nor can a penal substitution be conditional.
Penalty, as an instrument of justice, has only two offices: one in the punishment of sin as such, the other, in the interest of the government. And though punishment is only for the sake of its rectoral end, it is none the less strictly retributive, or inflicted only on the ground of demerit. There is no other just punishment. Nor could any other fulfill its rectoral office. Then if the punishment be inflicted upon a substitute, the substitution must, in the nature of the case, be real and absolute. Justice can have no further retributive claim against the sinners so substituted; not any more than if they had suffered in themselves the full punishment of their sins. Here the consistency of the case is with the doctrine of Satisfaction. All so replaced by a substitute in punishment must be discharged from personal amenability to penalty. Hence a real conditionality of forgiveness has no consistency with penal substitution.
We are fully aware that rigid Satisfactionists assert the conditionality of forgiveness. This, however, does not void the intrinsic inconsistency in the case. Nor is what they assert a real conditionality; certainly not such as Arminianism ever maintains. For instance, faith is with them the condition of forgiveness; but they really deny the contingency of faith. In their scheme, it is conditional only as precedent to forgiveness in a necessary order of facts in the process of salvation. It takes its place as a purchased benefit of redemption in the process of salvation monergistically wrought. Irresistible grace is efficient cause to the faith, as to every fact in the actual salvation. Christ would be wronged of his purchase were it not so wrought in every redeemed soul. Here, indeed, is the real consistency with Satisfactionists. But with all who hold a conditional penal substitution, especially with all Arminians, forgiveness has a real conditionality. Here, indeed, is a main issue between Calvinism and Arminianism in an unended polemics of centuries. It is the historic issue of monergism and synergism. The latter, with its full meaning of conditionality in forgiveness and salvation, is ever the unyielding and unwavering position of Arminianism.
The question recurs respecting the consistency of such a conditionality with penal substitution; or whether there can be a conditional penal substitution. Nothing is gained by asserting simply the penal character of Christ's redemptive sufferings, with the omission of their strictly substitutive office. In such a view it would be impossible to show any just ground or proper end of the punishment. Sin is the only ground of just and wise punishment. Penal substitution must never depart from this principle. If Christ suffered punishment, our sin must have been the ground of his punishment. And our sin must have suffered merited punishment in him. This, and only this, would answer to the idea of a necessity for punishment in the case of sin--a necessity arising in the relation of sin to a purely retributive justice. There could be no pretense, even, to such a punishment, except as our sins were imputed to Christ, and so made punishable in him. But in such a case the penal substitution is real and absolute: sin suffers its merited punishment: absolute justice receives its full retributive claim. No further penalty can fall either upon Christ or upon the sinners replaced in his penal substitution; and no more upon them than upon him. Their discharge is a requirement of justice itself. Hence there cannot be a conditional penal substitution.
8. Three Leading Theories.
We here name together the Moral, Satisfaction, and Governmental theories as the three leading ones. But we name them simply with a view to the indication of their general character, as prefatory to their more formal discussion.
It is important that formulas of doctrine should consist of thoroughly definitive terms. This is not always an easy attainment. There is no such attainment in these formulas of atonement. Neither gives what is cardinal in the theory which it represents, nor clearly discriminates it from the others; and it is only in their discussion that we shall ascertain their respective principles and distinctive facts. Their general sense may be very briefly given.
The Moral theory regards the redemptive work of Christ as accomplished through his example and lessons of religious truth, operative as a practical influence with men. It is the narrowest and most exclusive of the deeper truths of soteriology.
The theory of Satisfaction makes fundamental the satisfaction of an absolute retributive justice by the punishment of sin in Christ as the substitute of sinners in penalty. It admits the offices of atonement represented by the other two theories, but as incidental.
The Governmental theory gives chief prominence to the office of justice in the interest of moral government, yet holds to a proper sense of satisfaction, and gives full place to the principle of moral influence, not, however, as a constituent fact of atonement, but as a practical result of the redemptive economy.