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dwelling upon the ethical and spiritual results of
Christ's death in the experience and possibilities of
the Christian sanctification rather than upon its
relation to the satisfaction of the Divine law of
righteousness. But the latter is by no means
overlooked ; it is present frequently by implica-
tion, it is occasionally explicitly referred to. The
Johannine type is distinctly more favourable to
the conception of 'at-one-ment' than to that of
atonement ; it is ethical and mystical rather than
juridical. So much is this so that selected sayings
could be collected which would easily weave them-
selves into a theory that Jesus saves by revelation,
by the illumination of Divine light which becomes
the light of life and the assurance of our fellowship
in the life eternal. Redemption by revelation
would be a fair interpretation, say, of the Prologue
to the Gospel and of those portions of it in which
the ideas of the Prologue rule. Salvation is in
Christ's Person: 'this is life eternal, that they
should know thee the only true God and him whom
thou didst send, even Jesus Christ ' (Jn 17 3 ) . Jesus
redeems men by revealing to them the truth about
God in Himself; His work is supremely that of
the Prophet of God, who so redeems His people
into fellowship with God. Knowledge of God as
He is draws men from sin. Christ dies, but this is
inevitable because He is the Word made flesh, and
must therefore share the end of all flesh and die,
and 'so fulfil the destiny of a perfect man by a
perfect death as by a perfect fife/* Broadly speak-
ing this is true, but it is certainly not the only
Johannine view of the saving work of Christ. It
may be suggestive to discern the contrast between
the Pauline view that revelation is by^ redemption,
and the Johannine that redemption is by revela-
tion, but it is not exhaustive ; for the Johannine
writings are also pervaded by a conviction of the
necessity and saving value of Christ's death ; He is
as truly 'propitiation' as 'revelation.' St. Paul's
view that, apart from His purpose of dying for
redemption, Christ would not have come in the
flesh at all, is not avowed by St. John, but it is not
contradicted by him ; bis main interests are much
more with the realities and issues of redemption
than with its presuppositions and processes. Sin
is the real problem for him as for St. Paul, and the
death of Christ is the only means of removing it.
This is stated in Gospel and Epistle with a wealth
of variety. Whether they afford material for a
full theory of expiation, as some expositors assume,
may be questioned ; but that they clearly state a
connexion between the death of Christ and the
cleansing away of sin, and indicate a theory of
this relation which has affinities with the Pauline
view and with that of the writer to the Hebrews,
cannot reasonably be doubted.

Whilst in the very brief review of these references
we must refrain from reading the Pauline meaning
into the Johannine ideas and terms, we must not
decline to recognize such similarities as we find are
present in the writings.

(1) References in Gospel. These fall into char-
acteristic groups : (a) The references to the Lamb
of God. Whether the saying put into the mouth
of the Baptist (Jn I 29 ) be critically valid or not, it
is good evidence of the Johannine thought. We
accept the saying as referring to Jesus who ' taketh
away the sin of the world.' Its chief value is the

* Cf. B. F. Westcott, Epistles of St. John, London, 1883, p.
34 ff., Epistle to the Hebrews, London, 1889, p. 293 ff. ; H.
Schultz, Die Gottheit Christi, Gotha, 1881, p. 447.

use of the sacrificial symbol, ' the lamb ' ; Jesus
takes away sin by the sacrificial method. The re-
ferences in the Apocalypse to 'the Lamb' as it had
' been slain ' (Rev 5 6 - 12 ), to ' those who have washed
their robes in the blood of .the Lamb' (7 14 ), who
overcame ' because of the blood of the Lamb ' (12 11 ),
indicate that the power and purity of the new
life in Christ were definitely associated with the
shedding and sprinkling of His blood in the sacri-
ficial sense. The phrase 'in the Lamb's book of
life' (13 8 ), though it may not bear the strain of the
idea of an eternal redemption, since 'from the
foundation of the world' belongs grammatically to
'written' (see art. BOOK OP LIFE) rather than to
' slain,' indicates nevertheless that there is salvation
in no other. (6) The references to 'the lifting up'
(Jn 3 14 12 32 ). These are best expounded by the
comment of the writer himself. ' This said (Jesus) .
indicating by what kind of death he was to die
(12 33 ). They refer to the lifting up on the cross,
though the exaltation that followed may be implied,
in order that men might see Him in order to live
and be drawn to Him by the appeal of His cross.
If there be any expiatory idea here, it is implicit ;
it is not stated. (c) The references to eating His

sh in Jn 6. Alone these might well be satisfied
by the ethical interpretation of a spiritual appro-
priation of Christ ; this conception is natural in the
context ; but, as it is scarcely possible at the late
period of this writing to deny a reference to the
' Supper ' and its connexion with remission of sins,
the expiatory idea is most probably involved. In
the exposition of any Johannine writings the place
held by the sacraments in the Apostolic Church
should never be ignored. (d) The references to the
laying down of His life. 'The Good Shepherd'
(Jn 10 11 ), the prophecy of Caiaphas (II 50 ), the com
of wheat (12 23ff -), life laid down for friends (IS 13 )
these with distinction of aspect show the applica-
tion to Jesus of the vicarious principle ; in the first
and last instances the voluntary character of the
self-sacrifice is important, whilst in the context of
the third the soul-troubling of Jesus in presence of
death suggests that the death was neither ordinary
nor accidental. But there is no indication of a
theory of how His death avails for the benefit of
others. The one explanation that is sure is that
He lays down His life in obedience to the constraint
of love's necessity. This love is regarded by the
writer both as Christ's own love and as the
Father's. 'God so loved that he gave.' Love in
each case is the gift of self.

(2) References in Epistle. In passing from the
Gospel, where the Johannine writer has emphasized
the fact of the self -surrender in the death of Christ,
obviously bringing it in wherever possible without
attempting a definition of its relations, to the
Epistle, we find a closer definition of these realities
awaiting us. But here also the stress is laid upon
the correlation of the death of Christ with the
actual cleansing from sin rather than with the
cancelling of guilt or the satisfaction of the law.
Still, whilst the realization of purification, and not
merely a provision of the means of its cleansing, is
the primary meaning of the references to the re-
demptive work of Christ as the bearer of light and
salvation, the latter is set forth in terms so inti-
mately allied with the sacrificial terminology of
the writers of the earlier apostolic Epistles, that
the contention that there lies behind the passages
the assumption of a judicial satisfaction for sin
cannot be fairly evaded. The passages are : ' The
blood of Jesus his Son cleanseth us from all sin'
(1 Jn I 7 ); 'And if any man sin, we have an
Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the right-
eous ; and he is the propitiation for our sins ; and
not for ours only, but also for the whole world'
(2 lf -) ; 'Your sins are forgiven you for his name's




sake' (2 12 ) ; 'And ye know that he was manifested
to take away sins; and in him is no sin' (3 5 ) ;
'Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that
he loved us, and sent his Son to be a propitiation
for our sins' (4 10 ). With these it is convenient to
associate the strongest saying in the Apocalypse
on the subject: 'Unto him that loveth us, and
loosed us from pur sins in his blood' (Rev I 5 ).
That the immediate interest in these references is
to the ethical and spiritual results issuing from the
death of Christ in its relation to sin will not be
doubted. The question at issue is how far the
inference from them, that they assume an ante-
cedent value belonging to the death of Christ in
putting away the judicial obstacle to the cleansing
in the law and righteousness of God, can be estab-
lished. The cleansing obviously depends upon the
'death' and the 'blood' of Christ.

We need not draw the distinction made by West-
cott,* between the blood in the double sense of a
life given and of a lif e liberated and made available
for men, in order to justify a backward as well as
a forward look in the symbol. The main burden
of proof that the Johannine doctrine includes an
objective as well as a subjective work of Christ is
upon the use of 'propitiation.' It is not the same
word (l\a.<r/j.fc, not l\aa-T^piov) as is used in the
Pauline Epistles, but it is very closely akin. Is it
likely, in being applied here to the same object, to
have a different meaning? Used in the same
Christian community within approximately the
same period, and dealing with the same element in
a common faith, is not the term probably used in
the same accepted sense by the Johannine writer
as by the writer to the Hebrews and St. Paul ? If we
are to interpret it, these usages are the only means
at our disposal unless the Johannine literature
itself provides others. This is not done. On the
contrary, other terms are used that suggest that
the place of iXacr/ic6j is in the same system of re-
demptive ideas that we find in the other apostolic
writings. It is, for instance, co-ordinated with
Jesus Christ as 'the righteous,' standing thereby
in some relation to the moral order of the world,
and with 'an Advocate,' which touches the judicial
system of ideas ; it is connected also with ideas of
sacrifice and intercession which relate it to a
system of mediating priesthood ; the marked con-
trast between 'loveth' and 'loosed' in the opera-
tion of the love of Christ, which is the source and
efficient cause of redemption in His blood from our
sins in Rev I 5 , may also suggest a combination
between the progressive liberation from our sins
and the achievement once for all of our redemption
in Him. ^ The further statement that the 'propi-
tiation* is not for our sins only but also for 'the
whole world,' is not satisfied by the merely personal,
and therefore for the present partial, experience of
a subjective salvation. These are only inferences
and nothing more, but they are of value in con-
struing the Johannine witness into terms of the
general apostolic teaching. The supreme value,
however ? of this witness is the matchless grace
with which the writer relates 'propitiation' to the
love of God. St. Paul had taught this as the ulti-
mate source of redemption, but had associated with
its expression the righteousness of law and the
wrath of God against sin. The Johannine writer
transcends these in dwelling with holy joy upon the
issues of the propitiation, not only in actual cleans-
ing from sin, but in lifting men into the presence
of an eternal reality in which propitiation is an
interchangeable term with the Divine love itself.
In 4 10 he defines propitiation in terms of love :
'He loved us and sent his Son to be the propitia-
tion for our sins ' ; in 3 16 he reverently identifies
love with 'propitiation' 'In this have we known

* Epistles of St. John, 34 S. ; Epistle to the Hebrews, 293 ff.

love, in that he (iKeTvos) for us (virtp TJ/JLUV) laid
down his life.' The contrast such love implies
is the ultimate of the apostolic doctrine of the
atonement it is the perfect expression of what the
writer means when he declares that ' God is love.' *
4. The sub-apostolic period. In the age im-
mediately succeeding the apostolic, the Church
appears to have exhibited no desire to interpret
the relation of the death of Christ to the forgive-
ness of sins either with greater fullness than, or by
any divergence of view from, that found in the
apostolic writings ; the forms exhibited there were
found sufficient. The early Fathers treated the
atonement as a fact, without any attempt to ex-
plain its grounds. They had no theory: they
describe it mostly in the actual words of Scripture,
with little or no comment ; the types of interpreta-
tion given were sufficient to satisfy their intelli-
gence concerning the experience of forgiveness of
sins which so richly satisfied their heart. Clement
of Rome in his First Epistle exhorts the Corinthians
to 'reverence the Lord Jesus Christ, whose blood
was given for us' (xxi.), who 'on account of the
love He bore us gave His blood for us by the
will of God ; His flesh for our flesh and His soul
for our souls' (xlix.). There is no clear statement
as to the reasons that moved the will of God.
The ethical appeal of the death of Christ is pre-
dominant ; it is the supreme motive to gratitude,
humility, and self-sacrifice. The references in the
writings of Ignatius are chiefly that the death of
Christ on the cross reveals His love, and that through
His death we become partakers of spiritual nourish-
ment in His body and blood (cf. Trail, viii. and
Rom. vi.)- Polycarp reminds his readers that 'the
earnest of their righteousness' is Jesus Christ, who
' bore our sins in His own body upon the tree ; who
did not sin, neither was guile found in His mouth,
but endured all things for us, that we might live
in Him' (Phil. yiii.). The Epistle ascribed to
Barnabas deals with the subject in its relation to
the sacrifices of the Jewish Temple, which are
abolished in order that 'the new law of our Lord
Jesus Christ, which is without the yoke of neces-
sity, might have a human oblation' (ii.). The Son
of God is spoken of as One who 'suffered that His
stroke might give us lif e ' ; 'let us therefore believe
that the Son of God could, not have suffered except
for our sakes' (vi.). Our Lord's sufferings were
necessary; why, it is not said. (For catena of
quotations, consult R. W. Dale, The Atonement,
270 ff. ; Moberly, Atonement and Personality,
326 ff . ; Scott Lidgett, Spiritual Principle of Atone-
ment, 420 ff .).

. IV. CONCLUSION. 1. Is there an apostolic
doctrine of the atonement? Clearly the passages
we have examined, which form the data for a
doctrine of atonement, are brief and fragmentary
in character. It is frequently pointed out that the
books from which they are taken are in no strict
sense a unity, and were not written with the object
of being related to each other to form a unified
volume ; that they are only parts of a larger and
richer whole which interpreted the faith of the
Apostolic Age; that their unity is factitious.!
This view is plausible. It must be admitted that
the doctrine of atonement found no uniformity of
expression in the Apostolic Church ; but there is
little room for doubt that there existed a central
unity around which varied statements consistently
moved; the latter were not a mere fortuitous
grouping ; they were orderly, and their movements
were organized in response to a central gravity.
The fact that the death of Christ had a direct re-
lation to the forgiveness of sins and to the restora-
tion of fellowship between God and man is funda-

* Cf. Denney, Death of Christ. 276.
t Ib. p. 2, for typical illustrations.




mental to the most divergent interpretations of the
fact. The occasion of the reference, the purpose
of the writers, and especially their immediate
conception of the character of God and His relation
to the moral order of the world, largely account for
the varying forms of expression and illustration.
For, taken apart, the aspects in which the death of
Christ is viewed in the apostolic writings give
sufficient warrant for the main types legal and
ethical which mark the history of the doctrine in
the subsequent thought of the Church.

But the most critical survey of these aspects does
not sanction the contention of some recent writers
that an apostolic doctrine of the atonement can-
not be constructed.* A perfect doctrine may be
so deeply grounded and so many-sided that no
personal or corporate thought can completely ex-
pound it, and there may be many theories each
having its value. The judgment expressed by
R. F. Horton, ' The NT has no theory about the
Atonement,'t is too easy a release from the in-
tellectual necessity of seeking an interpretation of
the profound fact which dominated the whole of
the apostolic experience and teaching. The mate-
rials are certainly present in the apostolic litera-
ture for the construction of a theory and more,
a theory itself is potentially present and virtually
expressed in the common experience and preaching
of apostolic times where it is not formally defined.}
It is quite contrary to the spirit and attitude of
the Apostolic Church to speak of the atonement,
as Coleridge does, as 'the mysterious act, the
operative cause transcendent. Factum est : and
beyond the information contained in the enuncia-
tion of the FACT, it can be characterized only by
the consequences. '$ The apostolic writers regard
fact and theory as permanently inseparable ; *re-
conciliation' involves its 'logos,' and they attempt
an explanation of the great fact which had become
the ground and appeal of their evangel ; a fact of
such a kind as the death of Christ, so rich in ra-
tional, ethical, and emotional content, and appealing
to the whole ethical and spiritual being of man,
could not be left without a ' meaning.' The simple
connexion in any degree of causal relation between
the fact of the death of Christ and the experience
of forgiveness of sins is itself a profound theory as
well as the mother of theories.

2. General character of the apostolic doctrine.
This, as presented in the literature of the Apostolic
Age, is a unity in diversity. The diversity is ap-
parent ; it emerges as the stress of the interpreta-
tion of the death of Christ falls upon that which is
accomplished by it objectively to man's inner ex-
perience and moral desert, in contrast with the effects
subjectively achieved in the spiritual history of the
individual believer and of the Christian community.
The former represents what God does in and of and
by Himself which, as exhibited in the life and death
of His Son, justifies to Himself and in Himself the
manifestation of His grace in the remission of sins ;
the latter is what man experiences in actual cleans-
ing from sin and in conscious reconciliation with
God in Christ ; the former is represented as accom-
plished once for all in the sacrificial obedience of
Christ even unto death ; the latter is realized in the
self-surrender of man under the constraint of the
love of God in Christ, so that he enters into an in-
ward spiritual fellowship with the suffering death of
Christ, and in the power of his resurrection experi-
ences the reality of ethical union with Christ ; the
former is regarded as a finished work, the latter as
a progressive achievement; the former is atone-
ment, the latter is ' at-one-ment.' The presence of
this diversity of view in the faith of the Apostolic

* Cf. Life and Letters of Dean Church, London, 1895, p. 274.'
t Faith and Criticism', London, 1893, p. 222.
j Aids to Reflection, ed. London, 1913, Com. six.

Church seems undeniable. Both aspects are dwelt
upon ; neither appears to be adequate alone. Each
is carried back to the abiding purpose of God and
regarded as the interpretation of His eternal love ;
the juridical stands for a reality in His nature as
truly as the ethical ; much in the apostolic doctrine
is not covered by the conception of atonement which
represents it as a perfect confession of sin on behalf
of man by Christ as man's Representative; the
juridical conception is not fairly stated as an argu-
mentum ad Judceos, or as the mere inheritance of
Jewish thought. For, although the idea of literal
substitution lay so near to hand in later Jewish
theology and was everywhere enriched for them by
historic and Divinely-appointed ritual observance,
the apostolic thinkers so deepen and transfigure it
that it no longer tolerates the superficial conven-
tional idea of an easy or mechanical transfer of man's
guilt and penalty to another so that the sinner is
exempt from further responsibility.

An objective view of atonement exaggerated into
a system of imputations and equivalents is not found
in the teaching of the Apostolic Church, neither is
it ever set forth as a device for overcoming God's
reluctance to forgive sins. We are presented rather
with an intensely ethical conception of God's re-
quirements and with a mystical view of man's rela-
tion to Christ as the Representative of the race.
Substitution is thus deepened into moral identifica-
tion and solidarity ; even the outstanding feature
of the apostolic view of atonement as ' propitiation '
is explicitly correlated with the ethical nature of
God; behind the figures of speech and juridical
phraseology the redeeming work of Christ is pre-
sented as concerned primarily with personal rela-
tions and moral realities. In this reference in
the processes of reconciliation to the Divine purpose
and activity ' God in Christ reconciling the world
unto himself' and, still further, in the recogni-
tion of the fact that the sufferings of the righteous
benefit the unrighteous, the unity of the apostolic
doctrine is found. Objective and subjective views
being thus regarded as manifestations of the self-
imparting love of God, originating in Him, not
in Christ apart from Him, justice and mercy as
contrasted attributes in the Divine nature are tran-
scended. The apostolic mind also rests more upon
the declaration of the Divine righteousness in the
blood of Christ than upon its satisfaction thereby.
God declares Himself reconciled by something He
had done whilst men were yet sinners. On Christ's
part the reconciliation takes pkce through an act
of self -emptying prior to, but manifest in, the Incar-
nation, with its obedience unto death, even the death
of the cross. The unity of 'objective' and 'sub-
jective' is verified also in the true experience of
personal redemption, which is never regarded in
the apostolic teaching as adequate apart from an
ethical surrender of the self to God in Christ by
the obedience of faith. Union with God in Christ
is in the apostolic teaching a closer definition of
having 'received the reconciliation.'

3. Finality and authority of the apostolic doc-
trine. The interesting question whether the apo-
stolic doctrine of the atonement is final for the
thought of the Church and binding upon her teach-
ers, is a phase of the living controversy respecting
the permanent place of apostolic teaching in Chris-
tian thought, and lies beyond the scope of this
article. It must suffice to point out that the teach-
ing of the Apostolic Church gives no sanction for
the view that the illumination of the minds of men
respecting the significance of the death of Christ is
limited to one type of interpretation or to one
generation of men. It is possible to recognize a
distinction between the contingent thought-forms
of the Apostolic Age and the essential spiritual life
with its fundamental certainties in an experience




of reconciliation, made real by God in Christ, which
these thought-forms sought to express. This ex-
perience in the Apostolic Age, as in every other,
was something more than a composite of the terms
used in its interpretation, even when these terms
were the coinage of the apostolic mind. The usual
conditions for the discovery of truth which satisfies
the intellectual nature will prevail here as else-
where. The one way in which truth, which is the
only reality having authority for the mind, reveals
its authority is in taking possession of the mind
for itself.* Truth justifies itself in the mind that
receives it ; it derives its authority in the realm of
the moral and spiritual by the experience it creates.
The mind, once it has come to know itself, cannot
submit to receive its convictions on blank authority ;
even when that authority is an utterance of the
apostolic mind, it must commend itself to the
Christian consciousness by its power rationally to
justify the facts to which that Christian conscious-
ness knows it owes its existence. The question,
therefore, whether the forms of the apostolic ex-
planation of the relation of the death of Christ to
the forgiveness of sins are final and binding upon

Online LibraryJames HastingsDictionary of the apostolic church (Volume 1) → online text (page 40 of 234)