Church Education Trust

Christian Belief



Essential Elements in any True Theory

It will be seen as has been mentioned already that most of the above theories have arisen through over emphasis on one or other of the important aspects of the atonement mentioned in connection with the Scriptural teaching. Any true theory, therefore, must include each of these three aspects i.e.

  1. It must show that sin is not merely the violation of the will of God, but it is out of harmony with His holiness. The demands of God's nature go deeper than the demands of This law and therefore the death of Christ must be of the nature of a propitiatory sacrifice.
  2. God's moral law, however, is of great importance and so it must include this aspect. The moral government of the universe must be upheld and therefore the due penalty of sin must be paid. The death of Christ was this payment.
  3. The approach to man is likewise important and the atonement must include a sufficient moral incentive to man to turn from his sin and trust in God. To greater demonstration of love could have been made than in the death of the Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity in human flesh, on the cross.                                 

The importance of these three aspects is stated by Dr.Pope in these words "Most of the errors, have sprung from failure to connect the three leading Biblical ideas: the atonement in God, as a necessity in the divine attributes; the reconciliation on earth, as vindicating to the universe the Rectoral justice of God; and the exhibition of the redemption to man, as moving upon his conscience and will and heart.

Here unite what are sometimes called the Substitutionary, the Governmental and the Moral Influence theories. None of these theories is valid standing alone. Each is necessary as the complement of the others." (Comp. of Christ. Theol. II p.314).

There are other points in this important doctrine which have produced objections from some people or which need emphasis.

  1. The fact of the vicarious nature of Christ's death is most important and is the only interpretation of many Scriptures. It is not sufficient to say that He died as a martyr or merely to show His love for mankind. Dr. Dale and Dr. Denney both give illustrations to show how unsatisfactory is such an argument. Dr. Dale speaks of a man saving a child from a burning house at the cost of his own life. This would make the parents unspeakably grateful for such an act of love and devotion. "But". Dr. Dale continues, "if there were no child in the house, and if I were told that he entered it and perished with no other object than to show his love for me, the explanation would be absolutely unintelligible."
  2. Christ's perfect humanity and the fact that His identification with our humanity antedated the fall makes it possible for Him to suffer in our place for our sin, also the fact of His perfect deity gave His sacrifice the adequacy it required to meet the demands of the Atonement.
  3. The Virgin Birth appears to be essential to the doctrine of the atonement, for unless Christ had been born without sin, He would have been unfit to be our Substitute. There seems to be no other way to safeguard the sinlessness of Christ apart from the fact of the Virgin Birth.
  4. It has been objected that the vicarious death of one for another is immoral. In some cases it would be, but this is a peculiar case. The judge, the one whose law has been broken, the offended person and the substitute are one and the same person. This alters the case completely.
  5. The words in 2 Cor. 5:21, "For He hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin", do not mean that Christ became sinful. They have the same meaning as Peter's words, "Who his own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree" (1 Pet. 2:24) and mean that Christ took the place of sinful humanity and sin on the cross and bore the punishment due. Again this must not be taken in an exact mechanical way. Christ did not bear the exact amount of punishment due for every sin of mankind lumped in one sum in a quantitative way. Christ's bearing of sin was something real and terrible as is shown by His cry, "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?". The agony in the garden points to this also. It was no mere fear of physical suffering which brought upon Him this agony. Others have faced such physical suffering without the same agony. No! It was the bearing of the world's sin that caused it. But it was not in any quantitative sense. He being the Son of God, in His awful bearing of our sin on the cross, evidenced in the hiding of the Father's face from Him (impossible as it is to understand this), constitutes a full and sufficient propitiation to the nature and justice of God for the sins of the whole world.
  6. One other effect of the atonement must be mentioned. It released divine power which is able to bring about a moral and spiritual transformation in the hearts and lives of all who put their faith in Christ and His death. While it is an objective work it has definite and subjective effects.

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©2008 Church Education Trust