|Preliminary Facts| |Public Justice| |Theory and Necessity for Atonement| |Theory and Scripture Interpretation|
I. PRELIMINARY FACTS
The discussion of the nature of the atonement as represented in the Governmental theory will run through this chapter and the next succeeding one. It will also be involved in the last one-universality of the atonement. The question of extent is more than a question of fact; it concerns the doctrine also. With this Satisfactionists fully agree. And the next chapter, while given to the elements of sufficiency in the redemptive mediation of Christ, treats them in view of the principles of atonement, and thus involves its nature.
The sufferings of Christ are an atonement for sin by substitution, in the sense that they were intentionally endured for sinners under judicial condemnation, and for the sake of their forgiveness. They are an atonement for sin in the sense that they render its forgiveness consistent with the divine justice. They provide for such consistency, in the sense that justice none the less fulfills its rectoral office in the interest of moral government. Such office of justice is so fulfilled in the sense that, in granting forgiveness only on the ground of such a substitution in atonement, the honor and authority of the divine Ruler, together with the rights and interests of his subjects, are equally maintained as by the infliction of merited penalty upon sin. Such facts, here merely stated, will have their unfolding in the progress of discussion.
The forgiveness of sin has a real conditionality. The fact is given in the clearest utterances of Scripture. It is given in the fact of demerit for refusing the overtures of redemptive grace. It is also given as the only explanation of the fact that, with a real atonement for all, some perish. An atonement for all by absolute substitution would inevitably achieve the salvation of all. The logic of the case gives us this consequence. Satisfactionists freely give it. Their soteriology requires it. It must be so. Therefore a universal atonement, with the fact of a limited actual salvation, is conclusive of a real conditionality in its saving grace. It follows, inevitably, that such an atonement is conditional or provisory, not immediately and necessarily, saving.
The substitution of Christ in atonement for sin must be of a nature consistent with these facts. In such a substitution as would make his vicarious suffering the merited punishment of sin, all for whom he so suffers must be discharged from guilt; must be, even on the ground of justice. This we have shown before. We should thus have an absolute substitution in penalty, together with a provisory atonement and a conditional forgiveness. But such facts have no scientific accordance, and it is impossible to combine them in a doctrine of atonement.
The substitution of Christ must be of a nature agreeing with the provisory character of the atonement. It could not, therefore, be a substitution in penalty as the merited punishment of sin, for such an atonement is absolute. The substitution, therefore, is in suffering, without the penal element. This agrees with the nature of the atonement as a moral support of justice in its rectoral office, rendering forgiveness consistent with the interest of moral government.
Nor could the sufferings of Christ have been, in any strict or proper sense, a punishment. Demerit, the only ground of punishment, is personal to the actual sinner, and without possible transference. We have seen the futility of attempting the transference of guilt without sin. The result of such a fact would leave the sinful guiltless and make the sinless guilty. On such a possibility guilt has no necessary connection with sin: there is no such possibility. And the substitution of Christ in suffering will satisfy all the requirements of the redemptive economy.
Nor have the vicarious sufferings of Christ, without the penal element, less value for any legitimate purpose or attainable end of substitutional atonement. Such an atonement has great ends in the manifestation of the divine holiness, justice, and love; of the evil of sin; and the certainty of penalty, except as forgiveness may be obtained in the grace of redemption. But for all such ends the theory of vicarious punishment has no advantage above that of vicarious suffering.
If the high assertion be true, that God is under obligation to punish sin as it deserves, and solely on the ground of its demerit, then there is a requirement of justice not fulfilled by vicarious suffering in atonement. But no more is it in the alleged mode of substitutional punishment; and for reasons previously given. Imputation carried over no sin to Christ. Hence no sin was punished when he suffered.
The punishment of sin does manifest the divine holiness and justice. But this fact gives no advantage to the scheme of substitutional punishment; and for the reason that sin is not punished in Christ. If he is punished, it is in absolute freedom from all demerit of sin. And the recoil of so many minds from such a fact, as one of injustice, is not without reason.
Punishment does declare the evil of sin and the certainty of penalty; but only on the condition that the penal infliction fall upon the demerit of sin. But here, again, the scheme of Satisfaction is denied all advantage, because, according to its own admissions, such is not the fact. And the substitution of Christ in suffering, as the only and necessary ground of forgiveness, will answer for these great ends as fully as such alleged substitution in punishment.
A ground of forgiveness provided in a divine sacrifice infinitely great is a marvelous manifestation of the divine love; but that sacrifice, in every admissible or possible element, is as great in the mode of vicarious suffering as in that of vicarious punishment. The gift of the Father is the same. Nor are the sufferings of the Son less, or other, in any possible element. In neither case could there be any remorse or sense of personal demerit. He could have no sense of the divine wrath against himself. Nor could there be such a divine wrath. The scheme of Satisfaction will so deny. It would repel any accusation that even by implication it attributes to the Father any wrathful bearing toward the Son. "Christ was at no time the object of his Father's personal displeasure, but suffered only the signs the effect, not the affection of divine anger." The incarnation, the self-divestment of a rightful glory in equality with the Father, the assumption, instead, of the form of a servant in the likeness of men, are all the same on the one theory as on the other. There is the same infinite depth of condescension. Equal sorrow and agony force the earnest prayer and bloody sweat in Gethsemane, and the bitter outcry on Calvary.
Any question, therefore, between these two theories respecting the sufferings of Christ, concerns their nature, and not either their measure or redemptive office. And in these facts-in the divine compassion which embraced a perishing world, in the infinite sacrifice of that compassion, in the gracious purpose and provision of that sacrifice-is the manifestation of the divine love. "Herein is love." "God so loved the world." And to call his sufferings penal-or had they been so in fact-would add nothing either to the measure or manifestation of the divine love in human redemption.
Yet, without the penal element in the sufferings of Christ, we may attribute to them a peculiar depth and tone arising out of their relation to sin in their redemptive office, and find the explanation in the facts of psychology. It is no presumption so to apply such facts. The human nature was present as a constituent element in the person of Christ. And there is no more reason to deny its influence upon his consciousness than to deny such influence to his divine nature. So far, therefore, as his consciousness shared in experiences through the human nature, they would be kindred to our own.
We have our own experiences in the clear apprehension of justice, and sin, and penalty. The feelings hence arising would be far deeper on hearing a verdict of guilt and judgment pronounced upon the criminal. The higher and purer our spiritual nature, still the deeper would these feelings be. And could one with the highest attainable moral perfection redeem a criminal simply by vicarious suffering, his inevitable contact with sin, in the realizations of a most vivid apprehension of its demerit and punishment, would give a peculiar cast and depth to his sufferings.
So was it in the redemptive sufferings of Christ, but in an infinitely deeper sense. In such redemption he must have had in clearest view the divine holiness, and justice, and wrath; the turpitude and demerit of sin; and the terribleness of its merited penalty. Only in such a view could he comprehend his own work or sacrifice in atonement for sin. And, remembering the moral perfection of his nature, and that his contact was with the sins of all men in the full apprehension of their demerit, of the divine wrath against them, of the terribleness of their just doom, and that his own blood and life, in the conscious purpose of their offering, were a sacrifice in atonement for all, we have reason enough for their peculiar tone and awful depth.
It is urged that penal substitution is necessary, not only for the satisfaction of justice, but also "for satisfying the demands of a guilty conscience, which mere pardon never can appease." The connection holds the Rectoral atonement to be as powerless as the Moral scheme for the contentment of conscience. It cannot have rest, except with the merited punishment of sin. Therefore, in the case of forgiveness, such punishment must be endured by a substitute.
We fully accept the fact of a deep sense of punitive demerit on account of sin in a truly awakened conscience. This feeling may be so strong as to result in a desire for punishment. There may even be some relief of conscience from the penal endurance. But such a feeling has respect simply to personal demerit, and can be appeased only through personal punishment-if punishment be really necessary to the appeasement.
What is the law of pacification in substitutional punishment? We know not any. Nor can there be any, except such punishment be in relief of personal character. But this will not be claimed as possible. Further, it is claimed in behalf of atonement by penal substitution, that, more than any thing else, it deepens the sense of sin and personal demerit. But if its tendency is to the very state of mind involving the deepest unrest, it is impossible to see how it can be necessary to the pacification of the conscience. And if we can find rest only through merited punishment, personal or vicarious, we shall never find it either in this world or in the next.
All relief from the trouble and disquietude arising in the sense of sin and guilt, must come in the forgiveness of sin. And to be complete, the forgiveness must be so full and gracious as to draw the soul into a restful assurance of the loving favor of the forgiving Father. It is no discredit to infinite grace to say, that the sense of demerit for sins committed can never be eradicated, not even in heaven; though the remorse of sin may be taken away here and now. But even such a sense of demerit tends to a measure of unrest forever, and, apart from every other law, would so result. There is still a law of complete rest-such as we have just given. The true rest will come in a full forgiveness, in the assurances of the divine friendship and love, and in a grateful, joyous love answering to the infinite grace of salvation. And the atonement in vicarious suffering answers for such facts as fully as that in penal substitution.
Nor has the atonement in vicarious suffering any tendency or liability to Antinomianism. From its own nature it is a provisory or conditional ground, not a causal ground of forgiveness and salvation. From such an atonement no license to sin can be legitimately taken. Antinomianism is utterly outlawed. We know very well that Satisfactionists very generally discard this heresy. They will deny that it has any logical connection with their theory. Yet in the history of doctrines Antinomianism stands with the soteriology of Satisfaction. Nor does it seem remote from a logical sequence to such an atonement. There is substituted punishment, and also substituted righteousness.
Whatever penalty we deserve Christ bears; whatever obedience we lack he fulfills. He takes our place under both penalty and precept. What he does and suffers in our stead answer for us in the requirements of justice and law as though personally our own. In view of such facts, Antinomianism is far worse in its doctrine than in its logic. But the atonement in Christ does not make void the law. Nor has the true doctrine any liability to such a perversion. The atonement in vicarious suffering has this advantage, and is thereby commended as the true one.
4. The Grotian Theory
The theory of atonement now under discussion is often called the Edwardean, and also the New England, theory. It has the former title from the younger Edwards, who contributed much, and among the first, to its American formation. Some find, or think they find, its seed-thoughts in the writings of the elder Edwards, and hence so style it. But Satisfactionists deny this source, and earnestly disclaim for him all responsibility for the doctrine. It is called the New England theory because specially elaborated by leading New England divines But priority and the true originality are with Grotius. Nor can we accord to these very learned and able divines an independent origination of the doctrine. They could not have been ignorant of the work of Grotius, nor that in the deeper principles they were at one with him. With differences respecting many points, there is yet such an agreement.
By common consent, and quite irrespective of all dissent from him in doctrine, Grotius was a man of very extraordinary ability and learned attainment. The literary achievements of his youth are a wonder.' Nor did his mature life falsify the promise of such marvelous precocity. His great abilities and vast learning gave him eminence in science, in philosophy, in statesmanship, in law, in theology. He wrote many books, but to only one of which have we any occasion for reference. In theology he was an Arminian, and at a time when he, with many others, suffered no little persecution. But all the tendencies of his mind, as well as the logic of his reason, gave him preference for this system as in comparison with the Calvinism of Gomarus or the Synod of Dort. There was no narrowness in the cast of his soul. On all great questions his views were at once broad and profound. On the rights of conscience, and of religious and political freedom he was very far in advance of his time. "And, indeed the Arminian doctrine, which, discard-ing the Calvinistic dogma of absolute predestination, teaches that man is free to accept or to refuse grace, could not fail to suit a mind such as that of Grotius." Yet he was no latitudinarian; nor was his theology a matter of mere sentiment. It was the fruit of profound study. And the more protracted and the profounder his study the more thorough was his Arminianism.
Grotius held firmly the fact of an atonement in Christ. In this faith he undertook its discussion, having in special view its defense against the assumptions and objections of the Socinian scheme. Such is the import of the title which he gave to his work. It is not clear that he began the discussion with full forecast of the outcome. He probably had no new theory previously constructed or even outlined in thought. On the authority of Scripture he was sure of an atonement in the blood of Christ. He was sure, therefore, of the error of the Socinian scheme, and of the fallacy of its objections against this fact. But in its defense he opened his own way to the new theory ever since rightfully connected with his name.
It is rarely the case that the originator of a new theory, especially in a sphere of profound and broadly related doctrinal truth, clears it of all alien elements, or achieves completeness in scientific construction. Such, on this subject, is the fact with Anselm. It is also true of Grotius. We do not, therefore, accept all his positions. Some are not essential to his doctrine. In others he is not entirely self-consistent. We ac. cept what really constitutes his theory, and have little concern for any thing else. He had an equal right with Anselm to construct a doctrine of atonement, and achieved a higher scientific result. Hence the history of doctrines records less modification in his theory than in the Anselmic. We have no occasion either closely to review or to defend him. This would only anticipate much of the discussion assigned to the present chapter. It would be easy to recite reviews from various authors, and to give references to many others. But their very commonness to discussions of the atonement renders this unnecessary. Yet a few references will follow; and we here give a summary statement of his doctrinal position.
"The fundamental error of the Socinian view was found by Grotius to be this: that Socinus regarded God, in the work of redemption, as holding the place merely of a creditor, or master, whose simple will was a sufficient discharge from the existing obligation. But, as we have in the subject before us to deal with punishment and the remission of punishment, God cannot be looked upon as a creditor, or an injured party, since the act of inflicting punishment does not belong to an injured party as such. The right to punish is not one of the rights of an absolute master or of a creditor, these being merely personal in their character; it is the right of a ruler only. Hence God must be considered as a ruler, and the right to punish belongs to the ruler as such, since it exists, not for the punisher's sake, but for the sake of the commonwealth, to maintain its order and to promote the public good."
The passage just cited is a very free rendering of the original of Grotius, yet sufficing for the leading ideas. It is given as opening up, especially by the logic of its principles, his theory of atonement. It has not entire acceptability. Respecting the right to punish sin as purely a rectoral one, the principle may apply to man, but not to God. He has such a personal right. If Grotius allows an inference to the contrary, so far we think him in error. The case of forgiveness is different; and it is correct to say that God may not forgive sin irrespective of the interests of his moral government. This is a vital principle in the Governmental theory. It is the ground on which Grotius maintains the necessity for an atonement, and defends it against the objections of Socinianism. Nor did he hold any doubtful view respecting either the intrinsic evil of sin or the imperative office of penalty. Sin deserves eternal penalty, and the penalty may not be remitted, except on rectorally sufficient ground. Thus, after setting forth the reasons for punishment, be says: "God has, therefore, most weighty reasons for punishing, especially if we are permitted to estimate the magnitude and multitude of sins. But because, among all his attributes, love of the human race is pre-eminent, God was willing, though he could have justly punished all men with deserved and legitimate punishment, that is, with eternal death-and had reasons for so doing-to spare those who believe inChrist. But, since we must be spared either by setting forth, or not setting forth, some example against so many great sins, in his most perfect wisdom he chose that way by which he could manifest more of his attributes at once, viz., both clemency and severity, or his hate of sin and care for the preservation of his law." In these views, while essentially divergent from the theory of Satisfaction, he is thoroughly valid and conclusive against Socinianism.
While thus asserting the intrinsic evil of sin, Grotius denies an absolute necessity arising therefrom for its punishment. The punishment of sin is just, but not in itself an obligation. The intrinsic evil of sin renders its penal retribution just, but not a requirement of judicial rectitude. Threatened penalty, unless marked by irrevocability, is not absolute. A threat differs from a promise. The latter conveys a right and takes on obligation; the former does not.
In this sense he regarded the divine law as positive, and its penalty as remissible. The law, in precept and penalty, is a divine enactment; in execution, a divine act. The execution is not a judicial obligation, except for rectoral ends.
And this is the permissible relaxation of law which Grotius maintains. There is such a relaxation, as there is reality in the divine forgiveness of sin. Nor have Satisfactionists any consistent ground for its denial, -nor any sufficient reason for their adverse criticism of Grotius on this account. By their own concession that sin, with its demerit, is not and cannot be transferred to Christ, they admit by inevitable logical sequence that it is not punished in him, and hence, that the law in its penalty is relaxed in every instance of non-execution upon the actual sinner.
Holding thus the remissibility of penalty so far as the demerit of sin is concerned, Grotius, as previously noted, maintains, with its justice, its profound importance in the interest of moral government. Forgiveness too freely granted, or too often repeated, and especially on slight grounds, would annul the authority of the law, or render it powerless for its great and imperative rectoral ends. Thus he finds the necessity for an atonement-for some vicarious provision-which, on the remission of penalty, may conserve these ends. Such a provision he finds in the death of Christ, set forth as a penal example. So he styles it. And he makes a very free use of the terms of penal substitution. Yet he does not seem to regard the sufferings of Christ as penal in any very strict sense-certainly not as a substitutional punishment of sin in the satisfaction of a purely retributive justice. Such an example he regards as at once a manifestation of the goodness and severity of God, of the odiousness of sin, and a deterrent from its commission.
Thus his theory of atonement accords with his view of punishment and its remission. These are rectoral rather than personal acts. So the atonement, taking the place of penalty in its rectoral ends, regards God in his administration rather than in his personal character or absolute retributive justice. And thus he grounds the atonement in the principles which properly constitute the Governmental theory.
The Acceptilatio of Duns Scotus is very freely charged upon Grotius, especially by Satisfactionists. Even Dr. Pope, though an Arminian, is consenting thereto in his late work on theology. Bauer joins in the accusation in the article previously given by reference; though be does not withhold the fact that Grotius himself formally rejected the principle. This he certainly did, and denied that acceptilation could have any place with the punishment of sin. Repelling this accusation as brought by Socinus against the atonement, he says: "For, in the first place, this word may be applied, even when no payment precedes, to the right over a thing loaned, but is not, and cannot be, applied to punishment. We nowhere read that indulgence of crimes was called by the ancients acceptilation. For that is said to be accepted which can be accepted. The ruler properly exacts corporal punishment, but does not accept it; because from punishment nothing properly comes to him." It is as a logical implication that Bauer makes the charge. But Grotius certainly understood the question, and the logic of its facts and principles, as thoroughly as his reviewer. We join issue, and deny that Acceptilation is in any logical sense consequent to the theory of Grotius; while we affirm its close affinity with that of Anselm.
Leading divines of the Church-Abelard, Bernard, Peter Lombard, Duns Scotus, and others-contemporaries of Anselm, or his close followers in time, were not all close followers of his "Cur Deus Homo."' Some diverged so widely as to propound really new theories. But Duns Scotus, the heretical Acceptilationist, really propounded no new theory in kind. He dissented from Anselm, not respecting the nature of an atonement in the meritorious obedience and suffering of Christ, and in satisfaction or payment of a divine claim-a claim arising out of the wrong which God had suffered on account of sin,-not on these determining facts, but respecting the amount of the debt and the relative value of the payment. With Anselm, the debt was infinite; with Duns, not strictly infinite. With the former, the payment was in full; with the latter, only in part; which, however, God graciously accepted in lieu of the whole, his acceptance also giving value to the sum paid. This is the Acceptilatio of Duns Scotus, as known in historical theology. His divergence was specially from a difference in Christology, or respecting the redemptive sufferings of Christ. With Anselm, his sufferings as the God-Man were of infinite value, and therefore a payment in full; while with Duns they were strictly limited to his human nature, and, therefore, of finite value, and a 'payment only in part. But he all the while adheres to the same atonement in kind - atonement by payment toward the satisfaction of a divine claim. This is proof, that his Acceptilatio has a close affinity for the theory of Anselm.
It is only with such a theory that it can have any affinity. It is grounded in the ideas of debt and payment. There must be a divine claim payable in meritorious obedience and suffering. Whatever is paid must go to the account in claim. This is Acceptilation. These ideas of debt and payment have the utmost currency in the Anselmic theory - in the Satisfaction theory. But Grotius held no theory of sin and penalty, and no theory of atonement, which admits any such sense of debt and payment. His adverse critics clearly prove that he did not. And as he formally denied Acceptilation, and the very possibility of it in the case of penalty for sin, so the principles of his doctrine of atonement deny for him all the ideas of debt and payment -and in part as in whole-without which it has no place.
Mr. Watson, while freely citing Grotius as an authority, accuses him of unduly leaning to that view of the atonement which regards it "as a merely wise and fit expedient of government." He probably had specially in view this passage in Grotius : "It becomes us only to make this preliminary remark-that Socinus is not right in postulating that we must assign a cause which shall prove that God could not have acted otherwise. For such a cause is not required in those things which God does freely. But he who will maintain that this was a free action may refer to Augustine, who declares, not that God had no other possible way of liberating us, but that there was no other more appropriate way for healing our misery, neither could be. But also, before Augustine, Athanasius had said : 'God was able by a mere utterance to annul the curse without coming himself at all. But it is necessary to consider what is useful to men, and not always what is possible to God.' Nazarius says: I It was possible for God even without the incarnation (of Christ) to save us by his mere volition.' Bernard: I Who does not know that the Almighty had at hand various methods for our redemption, justification, liberation? But this does not detract from the efficacy of that method which he has selected out of many.'"
We do not understand Grotius to indorse all these citations, though from authors so eminent. If he did, we certainly could not follow him. And his doctrine of atonement has a far deeper sense than that of a dispensable expedient of government. His position here is, that of the divine freedom in the particular manner of human redemption, within the limit of a sufficient redemption. A distinction may properly be here made. Only a divine person could redeem the world; and the redemption could be effected only by a great personal sacrifice. The necessity is from the office which the atonement must fulfill. But, with the profoundest conviction of truth in these facts, we should greatly hesitate to say-indeed, we do not believe-that in the resources of infinite wisdom the precise manner of the mediation of Christ was the only possible manner of human redemption. We are not sure that Grotius means any thing more.
In the reference to Arminianism we include the Wesleyan school, and take the position of consistency with special reference to it.
Wesleyan Arminianism has ever been true to the fact of an atonement in Christ. In her hymns and prayers, in her utterances of a living Christian experience, in her sermons and exhortations,' this great fact ever receives the fullest recognition. In her soteriology "Christ is all and in all." In the fullness and constancy of her faith in the reality and necessity of an atonement in 212 Christ, Wesleyan Methodism has no reason to shun any comparison with the most orthodox soteriology.
What is our doctrine of atonement? The answer to this question is not so simple or unperplexed as many, at first thought, would suppose. The Scripture terms of atonement have, with all propriety, been in the freest use with us. Nor have we been careful to shun the terminology of the strictest doctrine of Satisfaction. An inquiry for the ideas associated with these terms in the popular thought of Methodism respecting the nature of the atonement, would probably bring no very definite answer. In view of all the facts, we are constrained to think that the dominant idea has been, that of a real and necessary atonement in Christ, while the idea of its nature has been rather indefinite. We are very sure, that while the popular faith of Methodism has utterly excluded the Socinian scheme, it has not been at one with the theory of Satisfaction.
Our earlier written soteriology has, at least in part, a like indefiniteness. It is always clear and pronounced on the fact of an atonement, but not always exact or definite respecting its nature. This, however, should be noted, that our written soteriology contains comparatively but little directly on this question. Indeed, we have not contributed much to the literature of the atonement. And most of the little contributed has been given to the two questions of reality and extent, while only the smaller part has been given to the nature or doctrine of the atonement.
Mr. Watson has written more fully and formally on the atonement than any other Methodist author. We recognize his superior ability as a theologian. This ability is not wanting in his discussion of the atonement. But his strength is given to the questions of its reality and extent. His discussion is mainly a polemics with the Socinian scheme and with Calvinistic limitationists. With rare ability be maintains the fact of an atonement against the one, and its universality against the others. But on the question of theories we cannot accord to him any very clear discrimination. Grotius, as it appears, was his chief authority; and next to him, Stillingfleet, who wrote mainly in defense of Grotius. But Grotius, while giving the principles of a new theory, did not, as previously noted, give to its construction scientific completeness. He wrote from the standpoint of the Reformed doctrine, but with such new principles as really constitute another doctrine. But clear and determining as his principles are, he failed to give either theory in scientific completeness. This is just what Mr. Watson has failed to do. And he is less definite than Grotius himself.
He rejects the doctrine of Satisfaction in its usual exposition, and requires for its acceptance such modifications as it cannot admit. He interprets Satisfaction much in the manner of Grotius, and hence in a sense which the Reformed doctrine must reject. And the doctrine which he arraigns and refutes as the Antinomian atonement, is the historic and current Calvinian doctrine of Satisfaction, with the formal rejection of its Antinomian sequences. He is, therefore, not a Satisfactionist.
The principles of moral government in which Mr. Watson grounds the necessity for an atonement mainly determine for him the Governmental theory. The same is true of his discussion of the "vinculum" between the sufferings of Christ and the forgiveness of sin? And when we add his broader views in soteriology as including the universality of the atonement, its strictly provisory character, and the real conditionality of its saving grace-views necessarily belonging to all consistent Arminian theology, and which Mr. Watson so fully maintained-his principles require for him the Governmental theory of atonement. And the more certainly is this so, as it is impossible to construct any new doctrine of a real atonement between this and the Satisfaction theory.
So far as we know, Dr. Whedon has never given his theory of atonement in the style of the Governmental; yet it is in principle the same. In his statement of the doctrines of Methodism it is given thus: "Christ as truly died as a substitute for the sinner, as Damon could have died as a substitute for Pythias. Yet to make the parallel complete, Damon should so die for Pythias as that, unless Pythias should accept the substitution of Damon in all its conditions, he should not receive its benefits, and Damon's death should be for him in vain; Pythias may be as rightfully executed as if Damon had not died. If the sinner accept not the atonement, but deny the Lord that bought him, Christ has died for him in vain; he perishes for whom Christ died. If the whole human race were to reject the atonement, the atonement would be a demonstration of the righteousness and goodness of God, but would be productive of aggravation of human guilt rather than of salvation from it. The imputation of the sin of man, or his punishment, to Christ, is but a popular conception, justifiable, if understood as only conceptual; just as we might say that Damon was punished instead of Pythias. In strictness of language and thought, neither crime, guilt, nor punishment is personally transferable."
Any one at all familiar with theories of atonement will see at a glance that the principles contained in this statement are thoroughly exclusive of the Satisfaction theory, and that they have a true scientific position only with the Rectoral theory. The same is true of the doctrine, and with much fuller unfolding, in the sermon to which reference is given.
On the theory of atonement we understand Dr. Raymond to be with Dr. Whedon. He gives the atonement thus: "The death of Christ is not a substituted penalty, but a substitute for a penalty. The necessity of an atonement is not found in the fact that the justice of God requires an invariable execution of deserved penalty, but in the fact that the honor and glory of God, and the welfare of his creatures, require that his essential and rectoral righteousness be adequately declared. The death of Christ is exponential of divine justice, and is a satisfaction in that sense, and not in the sense that it is, as of a debt, the full and complete payment of all its demands."
The principles given in this passage exclude the Satisfaction atonement, and require as their only scientific position the Rectoral theory. All this is even more apparent when the passage cited is interpreted in the light of the further references given.
With this view Dr. Raymond's doctrine of justification, as that of every consistent Arminian, fully accords. It is not a discharge of the sinner through the merited punishment of his sin in his substitute, but an actual forgiveness, and such as can issue only in the non-execution of penalty. We would not place Dr. Raymond in any false light, nor identify him with any theory which he discards. He does discard the theory which represents the death of Christ simply as a governmental display, and especially as implying that this is only one of several possible expedients in atonement. While fully maintaining the rectoral office of the atonement. he regards the death of Christ as also a manifestation of the righteousness of God. But these two facts we think very closely, indeed inseparably, united. Without the manifestation of the divine righteousness, the atonement in the death of Christ could not fulfill its rectoral office. But it is not the Governmental theory, in any true statement of it, that is here criticised. And on its own principles the theory requires the redemptive mediation of Christ as the only adequate atonement.
The principles and office of the atonement in Christ, as maintained by Dr. Bledsoe, agree with the Governmental theory. This will be clear to any one who will read with scientific discrimination his discussion of the question. And with Arminians he is, rightfully, a representative author on questions of this kind. He had both the learning and the ability for the discussion of Methodist doctrines. He gave to them profound study, and had a deep insight into their philosophy. The same is true respecting the atonement. He studied it in the light of the Scriptures and in its scientific relations to other cardinal doctrines of Wesleyan Arminianism. The outcome is a doctrine intrinsically the same as we propound, though not so styled. On the ground of such a doctrine it is easy to answer the Socinian objections arrayed against the fact of an atonement in the death of Christ: objections which the theory of Satisfaction never has answered, and never can.
The soteriology of Wesleyan Arminianism, taken as a whole, excludes the Satisfaction theory, and requires the Governmental as the only theory consistent with its doctrines. The doctrines of soteriology, with the atonement included, must admit of systemization, and be in scientific accord. If not, there is error at some point, as no truth can be in discord with any other truth. Now certain cardinal doctrines of the Wesleyan soteriology are very conspicuous and entirely settled. One is, that the atonement is only provisory in its character; that it renders men salvable, but does not necessarily save them. Another, and the consequence of the former, is the conditionality of salvation. Nor is this such as Calvinism often asserts, yet holds with the monergism of the system, but a real conditionality in accord with the synergism of the truest Arminianism. On these facts there is neither hesitation nor divergence in Methodism. With these facts, the atonement of Satisfaction must be excluded from her system of doctrines, and the Rectoral theory maintained as the only doctrine of a real atonement agreeing with them.
Such has really been the position of Arminianism from the beginning, though without exact or definitive statement. It never occupied the position of Lutheranism in maintaining a doctrine of atonement which, with its universality, must save all men, and which is disproved by the fact that many are not saved. While the earlier Arminians never formally constructed a doctrine of atonement in scientific accord with their system, yet from the beginning they denied the leading facts of the Reformed soteriology, so vitally connected with the atonement of Satisfaction. Thus they denied its limitation to an elect part; that it is necessarily saving; that it includes its own application; that saving faith is a resistless product of its sovereign grace; that the application is in the full extent of the redeuaption. Indeed, these questions were the chief issue in the great polemics between the 224 Arminians and the Calvinists. Hence the former could not consistently hold the doctrine maintained by the latter.
On these same questions, so directly concerning the atonement and so decisive of its nature, Wesleyan Methodism has ever been most thoroughly Arminian. And there is thus determined for her the Rectoral theory as the only doctrine of a real atonement consistent with her soteriology.
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