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Chapter 28-The Atonement of Christ Pt 1

The Atonement of Christ


SEVERAL prominent theories have been presented, as to the atoning work of Christ, and the method by which God pardons sin.

1. The lowest of these is the Socinian. This proceeds on the principle that God is pure benevolence, that vindictive justice is incompatible with his character, and that upon mere repentance, God can and will forgive the sinner. The work of Christ, therefore, is regarded as one in which he simply reveals or makes known pardon to man. Nothing that he has done secures it, because he had nothing to do to this end. It was already prepared in the benevolence of God’s nature, and is simply now made known. [Symington on the Atonement, pp. 2 and 3.]

The advocates of this theory explain away all that the Scriptures say on the subject of Christ’s death for us, by maintaining that his life and death were mere examples to us of the manner in which we should live and submit to God. In their view, therefore, Christ is merely a great teacher and a bright example.

Some of these have even gone so far as to speak of the sacrifices of the ancient dispensation as things suitable only to a barbarous age, and so far from regarding them as types of Christ’s sacrificial work, have looked on them as arrangements permitted only from sympathy for the weakness of the people, whom God ordered to offer them. [Nehemiah Adams, Evenings with the Doctrines, p. 197.]

The objections to this theory are:

1. It ill accords with the Scripture description of the nature of sin.

2. It is inconsistent with other attributes of God than mercy.

3. It is at variance with the letter and spirit of divine revelation.

4. It is irreconcilable with the exalted nature of the mediatorial reward conferred on Christ. [Symington, p. 3.]

2. A second theory of the Atonement is that which has commonly been called the Middle Theory. By this is not meant, that there are only these two and one orthodox theory; but, simply, that this stands between the theory of the Socinians and those theories held by persons, who, however, differing from each other, are regarded as Evangelical.

“This theory maintains that in consequence of what Christ did, a certain power to pardon sin was conferred upon him.” [Symington p. 3.

“This system supposes that God may pardon sin without punishment or satisfaction.”

“But that a difference should he made between innocent persons who have never sinned, and those thus pardoned; that the latter may not boastingly suppose themselves on an equality with the former.”

“This is done by the arrangement that, instead of a full pardon, they shall he pardoned on repentance, for the sake of something Christ was to do, because of which he is entitled to intercede for them.”

(1.) “This scheme is only apparently superior to the former, in claiming that this is done, because of what Christ has done.”

(2.) “It gives a defective view of the divine character.”

(3.) “It does not explain the Scripture language as to Christ’s work.”

(4.) “It fails to account for the peculiarity and severity of his sufferings.” [Symington, pp. 3 and 4.]

3. A third theory of the Atonement is that of moral influence. Its most noted advocates in this day have been Horace Bushnell and McLeod Campbell. It is difficult to say whether it, or the one last mentioned, approaches more nearly to that of the Socinians or is more remote from Evangelical ideas.

Like the so-called Middle Theory, it deems repentance alone to be essential for a sinner’s acceptance with God. It maintains that there has never been any obstacle in the nature of God to the granting of full pardon upon mere repentance for sin. The necessity for Christ’s life of suffering and death of agony is to be found only in the need or motives arising from the love thus exhibited to man to induce him to repent. It is for the sinner’s sake that Christ has lived such a life of misery and woe as is incident to man. So far as this theory has been held by Socinians they have recognized the work of Christ simply as that of the exalted man, Christ Jesus. But as presented by Bushnell and Campbell, God in Christ has thus identified himself with man in his misery and sin. Campbell goes so far as to represent Christ as so fully thus made one with man as to have been the representative penitent and confessor of sin. It is the great love thus shown which exerts the strong moral influence which causes man to repent and to be reconciled unto God.

All the objections to the Middle Theory may with equal force he urged against this. To these may be added:

(1.) That, while that theory recognizes the power to forgive sin to have been bestowed upon Christ as the result of something Christ has done, this confines the effect of his work to the production of penitence in the sinner through the influence which the love he has thus displayed exerts in taking away the indifference and enmity of the human heart.

(2.) That, while this theory recognizes the great truth that the love of Christ exhibited in his sufferings and death, has a strong influence in leading men to reconciliation to God, it diminishes the extent to which this love has been manifested by denying that element in those sufferings which arose from their relation to the penalty endured for sin in the satisfaction of the justice of God.

(3.) That, as indeed is true of all schemes which depend entirely upon subjective influences in the sinner, it fails to present any method of salvation available for those who have had no knowledge of these sufferings. Thus are cut off from all the blessings of salvation, not only all infants and idiots, but also the many saints of God who died before the birth of Jesus.

4. A fourth theory of the Atonement is the Ethical one suggested by the Andover divines. It agrees substantially with the theory just considered, but because of the recent prominence of the “New Theology,” of which Andover may be regarded as the most prominent exponent, it deserves especial consideration in the form set forth by that school. It has been most distinctly presented in a series of articles on “Progressive Orthodoxy,” published editorially in the fourth volume (1885) of the Andover Review. The third of this series is on the Atonement. The quotations which follow are from that article.

The specific points of this theory are:

1. That Christ is universal mediator, and as such, must appear for the relief of any portion of the universe which needs his help.

“Christ mediates God to the entire universe. Through Christ the worlds were made, and through him they consist. In him were all things created, in the heavens and upon the earth, things visible and things invisible. To him ultimately not the earth only, but the whole universe is to be made subject, things in heaven and things in earth and things under the earth, . . . . Not until he is known as Head of the universe do we perceive nor can we well understand, that he is the Life and Light of men. The whole truth, then, is that Christ is the revealing or manifesting principle; or, more exactly, that through the Logos, the Word, the Second Person of the Trinity, that which is absolute fullness and truth in God is communicated into finite existences; that through the Eternal Word the created universe is possible; that therefore the universe is Christ’s, the revolving worlds, and they that dwell therein are his to the glory of God the Father. The created universe and all rational beings are through Christ and in Christ. Therefore he mediates or reveals God to any part of his universe according to the condition or need which may exist in that part. If at any point his world is sick, weary, guilty, hopeless, there Christ is touched and hurt, and there he appears to restore and comfort. This earth is, it may be, the sheep lost in the wilderness, while the ninety and nine are safe in the fold. Christ cannot be indifferent to the least of his creatures in its pain and wickedness, for his universe is not attached to him externally, but vitally. He is not a governor set over it, but is its life everywhere. He feels its every movement, most of all its spiritual life and spiritual feebleness or disease, and appears in his glorious power even at the remotest point. If there were but one sinner, Christ would seek him. If but one planet were invaded by sin, Christ would come to its relief.” p. 57.

2. His incarnation would probably have occurred if there had been no sin, but the existence of sin changes its conditions, but not the power and reality of Christ.

“The opinion has reason in it that there would have been the Incarnation even if there had been no sin,” p. 58. “It is, of course, true that in order to reveal God in a world of sin and guilt the historical conditions, and especially the suffering conditions, of our Lord’s life must have been, in important respects, what they would not otherwise have been. It is also probable that the profoundest disclosure of the love of God in Christ has been made in the redemption of sinful man. But only the conditions, not the power and reality of Christ, are contingent on sin,” p. 57.

3. The effect of Christ’s work has been to change the relations of God to man which secures a change in the relation of man to God. This is the reconciliation effected.

“The very best word the gospel gives to express the complete result of Christ’s work is reconciliation, a word signifying that God is brought into a new relation to man and that man is brought into a new relation with God. The ultimate fact, however, is that God’s relation to man is changed in Christ from what it otherwise could be, and that therefore man’s relation to God is changed. Redemption thus originates with God, who in Christ finds a way through obstacles to the sinner, so that he can righteously forgive and bless. Because God is reconciled in Jesus Christ man repents and begins a new life,” p. 58.

4. In the work of Atonement there is no imputation or transfer of the sin of man to Christ nor of Christ’s righteousness to man.

“It is no longer believed that personal merit and demerit can be transferred from one to another. . . . It is not believed that the consequences of sin can be removed from the transgressor by passing them on to another. Conduct, character, and condition are inseparable. The results of sin are part of the ethical personality, and cannot be detached, nor borne by another,” p. 60.

5. Yet in Christ as the substitute of man the race approaches God representatively suffering for sin and repenting of it.

“He is an individual, but an individual vitally related to every human being. He preferred to be called the Son of Man. Paul sees in him the Head of humanity, the second Adam. He is one who is not himself a sinner, yet is a man who is not himself contending against sinful and corrupt tendencies, yet has so identified himself with humanity that its burden of suffering rested on him, and every man was within his reach of sympathy. . . .

“Humanity may thus be thought of as offering something to God of eminent value. When Christ suffers, the race suffers. When Christ is sorrowful, the race is sorrowful. Christ realizes what humanity could not realize for itself. The race may be conceived as approaching God, and signifying its penitence by pointing to Christ, and by giving expression in him to repentance which no words could utter. Thus we can regard him as our substitute, not because he stands apart, not because he is one and the race another, but because he is so intimately identified with us, and because in essential respects the life of every one is, or may be, locked in with his. . . . Here is the truth of McLeod Campbell’s view of atonement. The entire race repents or is capable of repenting through Christ. It renders in him a complete repentance. . . ,” pp. 61, 62.

6. This substitutionary suffering and penitence is not, however, available apart from the power of man to repent, and the attainment in the individual of repentance. It avails only because man, although a sinner, is still, under appropriate influences, capable of repenting, and the suffering of Christ for man, and his sympathy with him are able to awaken man to real repentance which is revolutionary and thorough.

“But Christ’s power to represent or be substituted for man is always to be associated with man’s power to repent. The possibility of redeeming man lies in the fact that although he is by act and inheritance a sinner, yet under the appropriate influence he is capable of repenting. The power of repentance remains, and to this power the gospel addresses itself. Christ suffering and sympathizing with men is able to awaken in them and express for them a real repentance. It is to this power that Christ, the holy and the merciful, attaches himself. Realizing it in some, and being able to realize it in all he represents humanity before God. Now the power of repentance, which so far as it exists, is the power of recuperation, is superior to the necessities of past wrong-doing and of present habit. It is the one fact which can never be estimated for what it may do, which baffles the calculation of the wisest observers. The penitent man, so far as he really repents, is in the exercise of a freedom which resists and almost subjugates the forces of evil. In union with Christ, who brings spiritual truth and power to man, repentance is radical. Man left to himself cannot have a repentance which sets him free from sin and death. But in Christ he is moved to repentance which is revolutionary. . . . It is not true, we admit and insist, that repentance without Christ is availing for redemption, for man of himself cannot repent; but, on the other hand it is not true that Christ’s atonement has value without repentance. Christ’s sacrifice avails with God because it is adapted to bring man to repentance. This gives it ethical meaning and value,” pp. 62, 63.

7. The sufferings and death of Christ can be substituted for the punishment of man, not because the guilt of man was borne by him and was atoned for in the way maintained by the older Calvinistic divines, but because:

(1.) By them, as truly and fully as by such punishment, was expressed the abhorrence of God for sin, and the righteousness of the law.

(2.) Because in this way is revealed the love of God, who so seeks the sinner as to manifest that even his wrath is but his love which, cannot allow the sinner to be blessed in his sin.

(3.) Because thus is an end put to separation from God, which is the first and greatest punishment of sin; and in view of Christ’s death it would be puerile to exact literal punishment of those who are thereby made sorry for sin and brought in penitence to God.

(4.) Because by his knowledge of them man is brought to repentance.

“The punishment and consequences of sin make real God’s abhorrence of sin, and the righteousness of law. The sufferings and death of his only Son also realize God’s hatred of sin, and the righteous authority of law; therefore punishment need not be exacted.”


* * * * * * * * *

“It must be confessed, however, that it is not clear how the sufferings and death of Christ can be substituted for the punishment of sin; how, because Christ made vivid the wickedness of sin and the righteousness of God, man is therefore any the less exposed to the consequences of sin. We must go on to the fact that Christ makes real very much more than God’s righteous indignation against sin. The punishment of sin does not save men. It only vindicates God and his law. Christ, while declaring God’s righteousness, reveals God seeking men, and at the cost of sacrifice. He shows that God loves men, and energizes in Christ to bring them to himself; that really the wrath of God is only a manifestation of the love of God, since God cannot allow the sinner to be blessed in his sin. The very fact, that God’s Son cannot be among men for their redemption except at the cost of suffering from the sin of man and of dying at their bands, shows both the intrinsic badness of sin and the undiscouraged love of God to sinners. What really occurs is the approach of God to men in Christ, who shows by his words and life the Father unto them: who draws them back to God in recoil from sin, and whose sufferings, by reason of sin, condemned sin more unmistakably than the punishment of it could have done.”

Sin is to be looked on not only as an obstacle which keeps man from coming to God, but also as an obstacle which keeps God from coming to man. God loves man, and would bless him. But sin impedes God’s love, sets it back, awakens God’s disapproval, so that instead of blessing he must condemn and punish. The ideal relation of God is love, but the actual relation is wrath. The sin of man prevents God’s love from flowing forth, so that the God of love is in reality hostile to man. In Christ God can come to man in another relation, because Christ is a new divine power in the race to turn it away from sin unto God.”

“God does not become propitious because man repents and amends, for that is beyond man’s power. He becomes propitious because Christ, laying down his life, makes the race to its worst individual capable of repenting, obeying, trusting; and he does this in such a way that God’s abhorrence to sin is realized, the majesty of law honored, the sinner and the universe convinced of the righteousness of the divine judgments.”

“The first and the greatest punishment of sin is separation from God, the withdrawal of those influences from God by which man is blessed. The consequences of sin in body and character are secondary, are only results of separation from God. It is because God is far away that such consequences follow. In Christ, the lowly, the suffering, the triumphant, God can come near to man to bless him. Christ brings God the Person to man the person, and in such manner that God is known as the God of holy love, the loving and holy Father. The goodness of God leads man to repentance. Man is at peace with God, and the worst punishment of sin is righteously removed.”

“It is true, then, that Christ suffered for our sins, and that because he suffered our sins are forgiven. But the suffering was borne because it lay in the path to redemption. The realization of God’s love in Christ was possible only through the suffering and death of Christ; and because he suffered and died in bringing the knowledge and love of God to men it is no longer necessary that men should suffer all the consequences of sin. The ethical ends of punishment are more than realized in the pain and death of the Redeemer, through whom man is brought to repentance. His death is a new fact, an astonishing, revealing, persuasive, melting fact, in view of which it would be puerile to exact literal punishment of those who are thereby made sorry for sin and brought in penitence to God. But it is all inseparable from repentance or appropriation. There is thus a limit to the vicarious principle. It is limited in its application by the personal relation of every man to Christ. He who is not moved to penitence and faith by Christ is under a greater condemnation. If he is incorrigible the condemnation is final and irreversible.” pp. 63-65.

8. The application of the gospel is made by the Spirit who regenerates no one except through that one’s personal knowledge and experience of it.

“It is the function of the Holy Spirit to take the things of Christ, and show them unto men. So far as we know the Holy Spirit does not regenerate men except through the knowledge, motive, and power of the gospel.” p.67.

9. Justice to God’s own love requires that this revelation of himself be made known to every sinner.

“Justice is concerned that every attribute of God should be displayed; is as jealous for the rights of love as for those of holiness. If it is God’s very nature to love, if it is a desire of his to save men from sin, justice sees to it that love is not deprived of its rights, and is not hindered in any of its impulses. We may go so far as to say that it would not be just for God to condemn men hopelessly when they have not known him as he really is, when they have not known him in Jesus Christ. And it is evidently the intent of God that all men should know him through Christ. The judgment does not come till the gospel has been preached to all nations. The gospel is preached to a nation, not when within certain geographical boundaries it has been proclaimed at scattered points, but only when in reality all individuals of all the nations have known it.” pp. 66, 67.

Various objections may be made to the theory thus presented, which are common to it and the theory of Moral Influence.

The following, however, are some of those which are suggested by its distinctive features:

1. Against the idea of universal mediation by Christ.

(1.) That its plausibility arises from an indefinite and mixed idea of mediation, because of which a relation of actual mediation is based upon facts which do not involve such a relation. A mediator is not an agent by which an act is done by one person for another, as would have been the creation of the world had Christ alone accomplished it for God. A mediator is not a medium of communication by which one person conveys information to another. Yet the writer so claims when he says: “Therefore he mediates or reveals God to any part of his universe.” p. 57. A mediator is one who intervenes between two persons to bring them into agreement or accord with each other. It is in this sense only that it is applicable to the position occupied by Christ between God and sinful man. It is not allowable, therefore, to base a theory of the position thus occupied and the work accomplished in it upon any relation occupied by Christ as the agent through whom the worlds were made, or the revealer through whom God makes himself known.

(2) But Christ is not even a universal medium.

(a) He is not so in creation, for creation is not his work alone, but is the work of God, in which each of the Persons of the Trinity co-operated (see chapter xvi on the Outward Relations of the Trinity, pp. 156-159). His work, therefore, could not have been so exclusive as to make allowable the idea that the Father and the Spirit so stood apart from creation, or have, subsequently, been so isolated from the universe as to make Christ the sole medium between God, or between the other Persons of tile Trinity, and that creation. Yet such is manifestly the idea upon which is based the universal unity of Christ with creation and his mediation for it with God.

(b) He is not a universal medium in revealing the nature and glory of God to the whole universe, for the Scripture no where teaches that he has thus revealed God, except in connection with the work of Incarnation and Redemption. But the revelation made in this is only stated to be to men and to heavenly inhabitants. Nowhere is taught either the fact or the possibility that such a revelation is made by him to the Devil and his hosts. It may be that the corruption and blindness caused by their sin denies to them, as these do to unregenerate man, the capacity to receive such truth. But, upon whatever ground we may account for it, or although no reason can he assigned for it, the fact remains that the Scriptures give no hint that devils participate in that knowledge of God’s wondrous excellence which the gospel teaches is made known by Christ to men and angels.

(3) Neither is any foundation given in Scripture or reason for belief that any intermediary is necessary between God and his innocent creatures. The position he occupies towards sinless beings is unquestionably set forth in the language of Gen. 1:31, “And God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.” The Scriptures in general represent God’s pure and holy angels as in his presence, as receiving communications from him, and as messengers sent forth by him to minister to the heirs of salvation. The only intermediary between God and an innocent being which the Scriptures mention was between God and Christ himself, when, after his temptation “angels came and ministered unto him,” Matt. 4:11, and, when, after his prayer in Gethsemane for the removal of the cup “there appeared unto him an angel from heaven, strengthening him.” Luke 22:43.

(4) But all foundation for a theory of universal mediation is destroyed by the fact that no such mediation has occurred in connection with sinful beings other than man. Especially here has it not been true that “if at any point his world is sick, weary, guilty, hopeless, there Christ is touched and hurt, and there he appears to restore and comfort,” p. 57. Who in all creation have been more guilty, or who more hopeless than the “angels which kept not their own principality, but left their proper habitation,” and whom it is said “he hath kept in everlasting bonds under darkness unto the judgement of the great day?” Jude 6. Neither in times before nor in the work of his incarnation has Christ provided redemption for these as universal Mediator. In the redemptive work of his incarnation we are expressly told that he did this not, for it is said that “verily not of angels did he take hold, but he taketh hold of the seed of Abraham.” Heb. 2:16. Indeed Paul seems to teach that no mediation could have been for any other race than man, when in the context he says, “since then the children are sharers in flesh and blood, he also himself in like manner partook of the same.” (v. 14,) and when he elsewhere asserts that the “one mediator between God and man” is “himself man, Christ Jesus.”

It seems, therefore, that so far as the idea of universal mediatorship by Christ is essential to it, this theory cannot be accepted. Yet the writer in the review puts it forth as the true starting-point of the inquiry for “a doctrinal statement which shall be comprehensive, satisfactory, and, at the same time, free from ethical objections and inconsistencies,” p. 56.

The further objections suggested to the theory itself will test its freedom from these objections and inconsistencies.

2. This theory cannot be an adequate expression of the Scripture teachings about Christ’s sufferings and death, because it sets forth nothing in them, because of which God can justly pardon and accept the sinner. The sinner is recognized as deserving punishment. But that punishment is not borne by Christ. All that Christ does is to suffer, but the sufferings and death are not recognized as punishment endured in the place of the sinner. Neither is there any transfer to Christ of the guilt or of the sin of man. Christ is not a substitute to bear the penalty of sin, but only a substitute who represents the race in its approach to God in the confession of sin and repentance for it. This explanation of his sufferings and death does not, therefore, remove the sin of man, nor make atonement for it.

It is said, however, that thus is taken away the greatest punishment of sin, the separation from God. But no reason is assigned why approach between God and man is thus obtained, except that in the death and sufferings of Christ God expresses his abhorrence of sin and manifests the righteousness of the law. But what is there in these sufferings and that death as expounded by this theory which exhibits God’s feelings in these directions? It is said, because, rather than save man in his sin or leave him to its just punishment, God sent his Son, although he must suffer and die at the hands of men. But this is the rather an exhibition of God’s mercy toward man desiring to avert the sufferings man must endure. There is no evidence of his abhorrence of sin, though he is unwilling that man should continue a sinner. Sin may be looked upon only as great calamity, not as heinous evil. It may be considered only as would be poverty in one of the sons of a rich man, in the deprivations of which the father is unwilling that the son he would restore, should remain in that restoration to his family.

Neither does it appear why these sufferings and death are necessary, because of Christ’s life with man on this earth. It is affirmed that this is so, but no reason is given for such necessity. Christ in his union with the race is said to be the great confessor and penitent. But why also the great sufferer and martyr? Why could he not have appeared among men without suffering at their hands, or being put to death by them? The theory does not represent him as receiving suffering and death from God, except in this providential way. Is it not plain that no explanation of his sufferings and death can be given which does not recognize these as inflicted by God, and however wickedly by man, only by man as the instrument of the suffering, the cause of which is the sin which he bore for man and the ultimate source of which is God, not in his mere providential action, but as the avenger of sin and of the violations of his righteous law? But this theory recognizes no such explanation and so far at least fails to show how, because of Christ’s work, God can “himself be just, and the justifier of him that hath faith in Jesus.” Rom. 3:26.

3. Neither can this theory find anything in its explanation of the sufferings and death of Christ which enables him to make such a revelation of God as could not have been made without them. When the death of Christ is viewed on the one hand as the result of the inexorable demands of justice, which can only thus be satisfied for sins committed and guilt incurred in the violation of moral law, and, on the other hand, of those of mercy which will offer up all rather than not rescue those whom it would pardon, and additionally of those of truth which cannot swerve from an adequate fulfilment of all that it has threatened, and of those of love which clings with inseparable affection to those whom it deems its own then is made such an exhibition of the attributes of God as no thought can fathom and no words express. Hence in his incarnation and sacrifice Christ has made such a revelation of God as could not otherwise have been attained. But what revelation of what attribute of God is expressed in the sufferings of Christ according to this theory which cannot be uttered in words and taught without those attendant sufferings and death? Yet, if the subjective salvation which this theory presents as wrought out in the sinner could have been accomplished without these sufferings and that death, as it thus appears it could have been if dependent only on the revelation thus pointed out as made, then is it certain that Christ would not have died. It is precisely similar to the supposed case of the possibility of righteousness by law as to which Paul declared that if true then “Christ died for nought” Gal. 2:21.

4. The plan of salvation is represented in Scripture as one of grace without the works of law, but this theory makes it one partly by Christ’s work and partly by that of the sinner. Repentance on the part of the sinner is so absolutely necessary, not as a consequence, but as an effective cause that it is even said that “it is not true that Christ’s atonement has value without repentance,” p. 63.

5. The act of the sinner by which his justification is attained is stated in Scripture to be faith; and as to that justification or righteousness it is said, “For this cause it is of faith, that it may be according to grace; to the end that the promise may be sure to all the seed.” Rom. 4:16. But this theory makes repentance the sole requisite in the sinner, it being left us to infer that faith is not excluded wherever it is necessary to repentance as a subordinate concomitant. This theory would make necessary such a revision of the word of God as would substitute repentance for faith in hundreds of places. It is a singular fact that in this article of about five hundred and fifty lines of a broad octavo page the word “faith” occurs but once, and that in this sentence, “He who is not moved to penitence and faith by Christ is under a greater condemnation,” p. 65. How different from the doctrinal expositions of the work of Christ contained in the word of God. It would have been impossible for Paul to write one-tenth as much on this subject without using the word “faith.” It would have been equally impossible for the Andover editor to have done so had he held the view of Christ’s work taught by the inspired apostle.

6. Another objection to this theory is its teaching about regeneration. If this never occurs, “except through the knowledge, motive and power of the gospel,” in what way can infants be saved? And if by the gospel is meant not merely a promise of salvation, without definite knowledge of the revelations made in the work during the incarnation, how have the saints of old attained salvation? Yet, evidently, such must be the meaning, as this theory declares repentance to be necessary in every sinner, and that “it is only in Christ that he has such knowledge of God and of himself as is necessary to a repentance which is revolutionary,” p. 62. Hence there can be no salvation for any man who has not personally known the gospel as revealed in connection with Christ’s work on earth

7. Still another objectionable feature appears in the necessity asserted for the preaching of the gospel to each individual man before justice pronounces its final word.

(a) This idea is based upon a strained interpretation of Mark 13:10. “The gospel must first be preached unto all the nations.”

(b) It is inconsistent with the statements as to the difference of knowledge possessed by men before the judgement-day and the different action towards them by the judge on that account. Christ spoke of those in that day who shall have known and of those who shall not have known the will of the Lord, and declares that the punishments of these will differ. But according to this theory all men will have known of the gospel. Luke 12:47-48. Paul also taught differences in the judgement of men when he wrote, “For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned under law shall be judged by law.” Rom. 2:12.

(c) The idea is baseless that God is under any obligation to man or to himself to secure this universal announcement.

To man God can be under no obligation. He owes nothing except to himself. Therefore the idea of obligation is most adroitly put by the writer, as one to God himself. “If it is God’s very nature to love, if it is a desire of his to save men from sin, justice sees to it that love is not deprived of its rights, and is not hindered in any of its impulses,” pp. 66, 67. That the language is fallacious may be shown by presenting another proposition, at the basis of which the same necessity in God exists; thus if it is God’s very nature to be just, if it is a desire of his to punish men for their sin, justice sees to it that justice is not deprived of its rights, and is not hindered in any of its impulses. The questions in both cases are what are those rights and what are those desires?

Besides this the language used would be equally appropriate after man has rejected the gospel. It would thus furnish an argument for a constant repetition of the gospel offer to each one that has rejected it, and that indefinitely. Indeed if the benevolent wish of God not to punish offenders is a sure hindrance to that punishment, then could they never be punished, for the benevolent love of God flows forth to all his creatures, even in their sins. He has no delight in the death of the wicked, But with God desire is not purpose any more truly than with man. The purposes of God will certainly be accomplished. They will always be in accordance with his nature. But the Scripture teaches no such purpose as that the gospel will be preached to each individual.

5. A fifth theory is what is commonly called the Governmental Theory of the Atonement.

Those who hold this theory maintain that God cannot consistently forgive sin upon mere repentance and faith; but that the necessity for its punishment does not arise from the nature of God, and his abhorrence of sin; wherefore there is no principle in him which requires all sin to be punished for itself alone; but from the necessity which exists for maintaining his moral government in the universe. “They therefore regard the sufferings of Christ as intended to make a moral impression upon the universe by their display of God’s determination to punish sin, and thus to make the forgiveness of sin consistent with the good government of the universe.” [Hodge’s Outlines, p. 301, 1st Edition.]

The objections to this theory are:

1. The nature which it ascribes to sin. It does not regard it essential that all sin should be punished. Therefore sin does not in itself intrinsically deserve punishment.

2. It places the punishment of sin on a wrong basis, namely, the good of the universe as involved in the moral government God; and not because it deserves punishment as sin.

3. God is here beheld, not as a righteous judge taking vengeance on the violators of his law, nor as a rightful king punishing those who have rejected his authority, but simply as a benevolent being entirely regardless of his own nature, or of the difference between right and wrong, punishing some men for the good of others.

4. According to this theory the necessity for punishing sin rests, not in its own nature, but because there are more created beings in the universe than those who have sinned. Had God created one man, or one angel only, and had that angel sinned, there could have been no reason, either in the broken law, or in the dishonour to God, for his punishment, unless other beings were also to be created.

5. This theory claims no support from Scripture; but is presented simply as a philosophical explanation, to avoid the difficulties supposed to exist in the ordinarily received doctrine of the necessity of punishment by God.

6. It is opposed by Scripture in every particular involved in it; the nature of sin; the desert of punishment; the vengeance of God against the violator of his law; the fact that God acts of his own will, and does not draw the reasons of his action from without; the teaching of Scripture about the priestly office of Christ, the work he has done, the position he bore to us as being made sin for us; the ground of our redemption; the causes of condemnation and a hundred other particulars, which show that the Scriptures are not merely not silent on this subject but that the contrary doctrine lies at the very basis of all its instructions.

6. A sixth theory of the Atonement is that of the Arminians, who hold that Christ died, and that for sin; but only in the sense that makes it consistent for God to offer salvation to men on the ground of evangelical obedience, and not of perfect legal obedience.

This theory teaches a general atonement without any application of it on the part of God. Connected with the doctrine of sufficient grace to each man, it supposes that the individual does, or does not exercise faith, and obedience, and thus secures eternal life or loses it.

The objections to this theory are:

1. “That it gives an indefinite conception of what Christ did. Either it involves no satisfaction to divine justice and to the law, or it implies universal satisfaction. In the first case it dishonours God, in the second it forces us to hold the doctrine of universal salvation.” What is meant by the expression, that “he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness,” if God is not justly under obligations, for what Christ did, to give salvation to all for whom he died?

2. If it be said that the object was simply to make salvation possible for all, the reply is that this is not what the Scriptures represent. They speak positively of salvation as procured, not the means of salvation; and of certain salvation, not possible salvation. “The effects of Christ’s death are spoken of in Scripture as reconciliation and justification, Rom. 5:10; Eph. 2:16; remission of sins, Eph. 1:7; peace, Eph. 2:14; deliverance from wrath, 1 Thess. 1:10; from death, Heb. 2:14; from the curse of the law, Gal. 3:13; from sin,” 1 Pet. 1:18. [Hodge’s Outlines, p. 314, 1st Edition.] We are spoken of as justified when ungodly.

3. This view of the atonement is utterly incompatible with the Scripture doctrines of Innate Corruption, Regeneration, Election, Justification, Adoption, and Sanctification. Every proof of the true doctrine on these points is an argument against it.

4. This theory makes it possible that Christ should have died in vain

5. This theory makes salvation partly of God and partly of man, in the most objectionable form. It represents God as permitting Christ to die that the demands of the law may be lowered.

7. A seventh theory is the Lutheran, which teaches that Christ’s death was intended to make such a satisfaction to the justice of God that he could offer salvation to all that believe in him.

The objection to this theory is that by rejecting the doctrine of Election it omits a part of the truth. The statement, as made, is not opposed to the views usually held by the orthodox. Salvation is thus offered to all, and offered because satisfaction for sin has been made to the justice of God. But for whom is this salvation? They say, as we do, for those that shall believe. And hence the question between us is, Who will believe, and how will this faith be effected? The doctrine of Election teaches that they shall believe whom God hath chosen, for whom he sent Christ, for whom Christ died; and shall believe as the result of the gracious influences of the Spirit purchased by Christ’s work.

8. The eighth theory of the Atonement is that which declares it to be general, but asserts that it is limited in its application. According to this theory, the work of atonement was not wrought out by Christ for the elect as such, nor for the church, either as foreseen, or designed to be composed of those to be saved; but for sinners, as sinners. The work of atonement had nothing to do with the persons to whom it was to be applied considered as an atonement, but only had respect to men as guilty sinners in God’s sight. The work to be accomplished was precisely what would have been, had there been no election, no church to be established, no work of grace to be wrought on the heart, but each person left to act in its reception, or rejection, as he should choose.

It is in its application only that it has respect to Election, and thus is it made particular, not because in time it is applied to certain persons, but because it was designed in eternity to be thus applied. The application itself, however, involves the design of the atonement; but, simply, that which is made in respect to each individual, when, by regeneration and faith, he is vitally made partaker of Christ. It does not include the sovereign pleasure of God in the purpose to apply. This is involved in election.

The most distinguished advocate of this theory is Andrew Fuller, a man of the clearest perceptions, and of remarkable power of precise statement. His views on the subject appear in the Conversation on Particular Redemption, Andrew Fuller’s Works, Vol. II, p. 692 to 698. He has here sought to establish a theory not substantially different from that of the older Calvinists, but after all, one which has merely at first sight the appearance of being better. The distinction on which he attempts to establish it, however, appears not to be correct. The following extracts from his discussion will show his position. The disputants are Peter and James; the latter presents the views of Fuller. Peter gives the theory as he understands it thus:

“The particularity of the Atonement consists in the sovereign pleasure of God with regard to its application.”

James replies: I should rather say “the particularity of Redemption consists in the sovereign pleasure of God with regard to the application of the Atonement, that is with regard to the persons to whom it shall be applied.”

Again says James: “You say the position in question places the particularity of Redemption in its application. Whence, if you will recollect yourself, you will find that it places it in the Sovereign pleasure of God with regard to application.”

Again Peter: “But, have you ever made use of the term application so as not to include the divine intention?”

James: “I am not aware of having done so.”

Again: He sums up by saying that his “object in the distinction has been merely to distinguish what the death of Christ is sufficient for, from what it was the design of the Father and Son to effect through it.”

Again: “I do not consider particular redemption as being so much a doctrine of itself as a branch of the great doctrine of Election.”

“Atonement and Redemption are both effects of Christ’s death, but in such order as that one is the consequence of the other.”

Again: In the previous conversation on substitution he says, p. 690: “Concerning the death of Christ, if I speak of it irrespective of the purpose of the Father and the Son, as to the objects who should be saved by it, referring merely to what it is in itself sufficient for, and declared in the gospel to be adapted to, I should think I answered the question in the Scriptural way by saying, it was for sinners as sinners. But if I have respect to the purpose of the Father in giving his Son to die and to the design of Christ in laying down his life, I should answer, it was for the elect only.”

This theory agrees with the ordinary theory in:

1. Regarding satisfaction for sin necessary.

2. Recognizing that this has been made by Christ.

3. Claiming that the value of Christ’s death is sufficient for the world.

4. Declaring that its benefits accrue to some only.

5. Maintaining that this limitation is because of God’s purpose, and not because of action on the part of man.

It differs from it in that it makes Redemption and Atonement two different works, instead of the same work viewed in two different aspects. The older doctrine regards the atonement as a reconciliation of sinners to God, but of sinners, who are thus redeemed from the condition of bondage and misery in which they had been. Atonement, therefore, is reconciliation, Redemption is deliverance; but of the same persons by the same work, and at the same time, each being involved in the same decree. The new theory makes atonement an act of reconciliation by Christ’s death, not of the persons redeemed alone, but of the whole world, and this, as the result of a general decree to send Christ to reconcile the world to God. Redemption comes under the decree of Election which has nothing to do with reconciliation; and, by it, only certain persons have the benefit of the reconciliation thus effected, not because of their own acceptance or faith, but because God gives to them all the advantages of the work of atonement and withholds them from all others.

The objections to this view are:

1. That it represents the whole world as actually reconciled to God by Christ’s death. If so, on what ground is this reconciliation destroyed? The doctrine of universal salvation is therefore involved.

2. If this is not the view, then, when the Scriptures speak of our reconciliation to God, nothing more is meant than that a mere mode of reconciliation has been arranged, so that the divine justice has been simply so satisfied that a medium of acceptance with God has been provided. But, if there is merely a medium of acceptance provided, how can men be spoken of as actually reconciled to God? In what proper sense can Christ be said to have borne our sins, and to have been wounded for our transgressions, if his act was merely the arrangement of a medium for salvation? Christ, to make atonement, must have been substituted in our place, borne our sins, had imputed to him our trespasses, and the chastisement of our peace must have been upon him. But, if so, a true atonement must have been made. It could not have been the mere arrangement of a medium of salvation. It must have been salvation itself. And, if for all, all must be saved.

3. This theory is inconsistent with one of the facts admitted by its advocates; that the death of Christ was a penal sacrifice. Penalty and guilt have no respect to sin in the abstract, but only to it as associated with sinners. If the work of atonement simply wrought out a medium of access, then it was a mere general exhibition of God’s hatred of sin, having no respect to particular persons. On the governmental theory that such an arrangement was necessary simply to display before the universe the evil of sin, this idea of atonement might be allowed. But on the theory of satisfaction to justice, the atonement must be made by a penal sacrifice.

4. This only apparently has any advantage over the usual older Calvinistic theory.

(1.) It confines salvation to the elect.

(2.) It gives salvation as the result of God’s action.

(3.) It ascribes no greater value to Christ’s death. The older theory, except as held by those who gave it a commercial character, taught that what Christ needed to do for one man, would have been sufficient for all.

(4.) It, with that theory, ascribes the limitation to God’s purpose; the one holding the purpose in actual salvation; the other the purpose in the application of salvation.

(5.) God can under either, with equal sincerity, make the gospel offer to all.

(a.) Each holds that a sufficient basis for salvation exists if God had chosen to extend it.

(b.) Each holds that God knows that only those chosen by him will accept.

(c.) Each teaches that this acceptance is due to special grace.

(d.) Each maintains that it was God’s purpose to withhold that special grace from some; a purpose formed in eternity and recognized as existing when the sacrifice was offered, and when the offer of salvation is made.

(6.) This seems at first more in accordance with the expressions of general atonement made in the Scriptures; but it appears on examination that the act there spoken of cannot be limited to the meaning here given, and that either these passages teach universal salvation, or they have a meaning, as used by Christ and his Apostles, which does not involve the idea of such equal universality as includes in the same respect in every way every one of the posterity of Adam.

(7.) This theory, like all others of a general atonement, lies under the difficulty that it extends reconciliation, or a medium of reconciliation, to persons, who by death have been confirmed in destruction, or it shuts off from its benefits all who have died before Christ. The theory of limited atonement recognizes all who are included in it as saved by virtue of it. The virtue secured, therefore, is applied to all to whom it belongs. The fact that the Lamb was slain before the foundation of the world, or, in other words, the certainty of Christ’s death, makes salvation beforehand possible, and permits God to bestow it. The death of Christ only fulfils what has thus been relied on. But in the case of a general atonement made for the whole race, we have Christ dying, not simply for those who shall not be saved, but for those who are already damned.

(8.) This theory is incompatible with those expressions of Scripture which speak of Christ’s death as though it were confined to the elect.

John 10:11, 15, 26-28. “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd layeth down his life for the sheep, . . . and I lay down my life for the sheep, . . . but ye believe not because ye are not of my sheep. . . . My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand.”

(a.) The sheep here are those to whom he will give eternal life.

(b) They are those for whom he lays down his life.

(c) They are not all, because he tells those who were rejecting him that they were not his sheep.

(d) The whole language used implies that the salvation of the sheep alone is the object for which his life is laid down.

John 17:9, 19. “I pray not for the world, but for those which thou hast given me. . . . For their sakes I sanctify myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in the truth.”

Rom. 5:8, 9. “But God commendeth his own love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, shall we be saved from the wrath of God through him.”

Here those for whom Christ died are plainly declared to be thus justified by his blood, and the certainty of salvation from wrath is maintained.

See also the passage in Rom. 8th chapter, where the Apostle uses the language of exultation. In verse 32. “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not also with him, freely give us all things?”

(a.) For us all: here is the true extent of the atonement. The all, are those who are truly saved.

(b.) Those for whom he has thus been delivered, feel assured that he will give also all grace, so that their salvation is secure. But this is true only of the elect; therefore, for them alone and not for others, was Christ “not spared.”

Verse 34. “Who is he that shall condemn? It is Christ Jesus that died.” This is the sufficient answer as the apostle teaches; but according to the theory of Fuller it is the application of Christ’s death, and not the death itself, that removes condemnation.

Eph. 5:25. “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself up for it.”

Titus 2:14. “Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a people for his own possession, zealous of good works.” It is for the “us” who compose this people, that Christ has given “himself.”

1 Peter 1:20. The very manifestation of Christ in the world is said to have taken place for those “who through him are believers in God.”

The arguments in favor of this later theory are (1) that the Scriptures use expressions, which favor a general atonement, at the same time that they speak of a specific object in Christ’s death. It is claimed that both, the general atonement, and the particular application are thus taught.

(2) The second argument is that this will make the specific offer of the gospel to all appear more sincere than the other form.

These arguments will be considered in connection with the last theory of atonement, commonly called the Calvinistic theory. It is that of Calvin and the churches which he established. It is the theory of the Regular Baptists of the past. No other prevailed among those who have held distinctively Calvinistic Baptist sentiments until the days of Andrew Fuller. He, because of his great ability, contributed greatly to the acceptance of the modification which we have just been considering. After stating the older Calvinistic theory it will be shown that it is the Scriptural doctrine of the atonement in each of its particulars. It has been assumed heretofore that the nature of the Atonement is such as is taught by this theory. After this proof inquiry will be made into its extent, whether it is general or particular. In that place will naturally come up the questions as to the true explanation of the passages which have been thought to teach a general atonement.


Rev. James Petigru Boyce, D. D., LL. D.,–Abstract of Systematic Theology–First published in 1887

  1. July 2, 2014 at 7:53 am

    Reblogged this on My Delight and My Counsellors.

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