Church Education Trust

Christian Belief

b. ST006/2 Necessity.


The Necessity for the Atonement

When we say that the Atonement was necessary we mean that it was indispensable to the exercise of divine mercy towards sinful man, and that without it it is impossible for man to be saved. In saying this, however, we must guard carefully against the idea that the Atonement was necessary to excite the love of God, i.e. that God could not have loved us without it.

This is quite untrue to the facts, and to the nature of God. It was the very love of God which was the original cause of the Atonement (John 3:16). The ground or occasion of the Atonement lies in the fact of sin in the world and its awfulness, and also of the necessity for the propitiation of the wrath of God against sin.

'Wrath" here does not mean, as it so often does in common parlance, a feeling of bitterness and resentment, but it means the inherent, unalterable hatred of and opposition to sin that lies in the very nature of God.

The reason for the Atonement can perhaps be best understood if we say, as does Dr.Wiley, that it is grounded in three necessities:-

  1. That of the nature and claims of the Divine Majesty.
  2. That of upholding the authority and honour of the Divine Sovereign.
  3. That of bringing to bear upon the sinner the strongest possible motive for repentance and faith.

It will be seen as we proceed, that these necessities are the basis of the three main classes of theory concerning the Atonement.

1. The Nature and Claims of the Divine Majesty

Sin is not only transgression of God's law, it is opposed to the very nature of God, it is out of all harmony with His holiness, and can never be otherwise. God is holy love and by His very nature of holiness could not possibly have fellowship with sinful beings. At the same time the fact that He is love made Him yearn over the creatures He had made and long for their fellowship.

"Sin rent the heart of God, sin made man an orphan and left God bereaved. His holiness prevented sinful man from approaching Him while His love drew the sinner to Him." (Wiley, Christian Theology II p.274).

"The Atonement of Christ was God's method of providing One Who would and could bear the penalty which God's holiness was bound to demand. This demand is deeper than law, which is an expression of the will of God; for back of the will of God is His character of absolute holiness.

The ethical grandeur of the Atonement is that God, in Christ, bore that penalty, His holiness demanded, a sacrifice and His love provided it. "Propitiation was therefore necessary to provide a common ground or meeting place between God and man. To say that propitiation satisfies the vindictiveness of a wrathful God is entirely false. It is the result of thinking of God's nature as benevolence rather than holy love and exalting His goodness to the disparagement of His holiness.

2. The Upholding of the Authority and Honour of the Divine Sovereign

God is an infinite and perfect moral Being and His universe is upheld by principles of perfect moral rectitude, the true, the right, the perfect and the good. He has created a race of beings possessing the same principles of rational intuition. Moral Law therefore becomes a necessity, it must be upheld and God cannot dispense with its sanctions.

"To repeal the sanctions would be to break down the distinctions between right and wrong, give licence to sin, and introduce chaos into a world of order and beauty. God cannot therefore set aside the execution of the penalty. He must either inflict retributive justice upon the sinner himself, or maintain public justice by providing a substitute." (op.cit. p.275).

3. The Bringing to bear upon the Sinner the Strongest Possible Motive for Repentance and Faith.

God wanted not only to provide a sacrifice and a way of atonement which would satisfy the demands of His nature and His justice, but also which would provide the greatest motive and appeal to man to put his trust in Him. This He did in the sacrifice of His only Begotten Son on the Cross. God gave His best, His all, His very Self.

Over-emphasis on one of these necessities has produced theories of the Atonement which are one-sided and not completely faithful to Scripture. We shall see this as we continue with our study.

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