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Oliver Chase Quick

Chapter III


How does the Revelation which our Lord brought affect the conditions under which mortal life is passed? What is the salvation which it brings to a world so terribly different from the Heaven whence He came?

Christ’s message of redemption has been expressed and defined in three great Christian doctrines - the doctrine of the Atonement, the doctrine of the Judgement, and the doctrine of Human Resurrection. The doctrine of the Atonement tells us of an escape from the bondage of sin. The doctrine of the Judgement warns us of the consequences of neglecting that escape. The doctrine of Resurrection promises us the reward which shall be theirs who do not neglect it. By the three great doctrines of Redemption the Revelation of our Lord is placed in a threefold relationship to our lives - first, as an opportunity; secondly, as a warning; thirdly, as a promise. We will consider them in order.

The doctrine of the Atonement has always been recognised by the Catholic Church as in one sense the first and most essential doctrine of Christianity. In another sense, the doctrine of Incarnation stands first, since it is on the reality of the Incarnation that the whole possibility of redemption depends. Nevertheless, the Atonement is the primary aim and purpose of the Incarnation, since it was to save His people from their sins that Jesus was born.

The primary importance of the Atonement in the Christian creed has always seemed clearest to those whom we should call, in the narrower sense, the greatest saints and the greatest sinners. In other words, the Atonement has been the greatest power of God to those who possess the deepest consciousness of sin. But among the generality of mankind the sense of sin - it is a commonplace to say it - has been on the wane during the last thirty years. It is precisely for that reason that the essential purpose of the Christian revelation, and of the organised system designed for its stewardship, has been so disastrously misconceived and misunderstood. The so‑called “problem of evil” indeed is always with us. Men are continually urging it as an objection fatal to the whole faith of Christianity. But failure to realise the fact of sin has prevented them from appreciating either the true conditions of the problem or the solution which Christianity has to offer. At the risk, therefore, of indulging in a rather barren and metaphysical argument we must begin at the beginning of the subject and seek first to define the terms of the discussion.

In the doctrine of the Atonement Christianity offers to man a means of escape from bondage to evil; it does not offer at once an adequate explanation of its existence. That is to say, the official theology of the Church has followed the example of its Founder in treating evil as an enemy to be fought, before treating it as a problem to be solved. Now the reason why the existence of evil seems to many an insuperable objection to faith, lies precisely in the fact that they insist in regarding evil as a problem before they regard it as an enemy; they want to explain it first and to fight it afterwards. But to adopt this order of procedure is to fall into manifest error. Why is the problem of evil so acute? Only because evil is such a repulsive thing, because we desire to flee from it, because we feel it ought not to be there, because it stirs all the power of will and emotion to get rid of it. If evil is not a thing to escape or destroy, then there is no sense in calling it evil, and the problem disappears. Again, if evil cannot be escaped or destroyed, to discuss its explanation is waste of time, and the problem is of no importance. It is only when a possible means of escape or victory appears, that the problem of evil becomes real; and Christianity therefore appreciates the problem of evil far better than its opponents, when it offers us first the means of escape or the power to fight, and bids us wait for the explanation till afterwards.

This argument, though somewhat subtle, is not as dialectical as it seems, and may perhaps be more clearly stated in another form. In the case of any particular thing which is evil we may separate and study the problem of its existence altogether apart from the attempt to get rid of it; but only if we cease for a time to treat it as evil. It is quite possible, for instance, to study the nature and origin of disease‑germs apart from any effort to destroy them; but in that case the student ceases to be concerned with their evil character. The writer well remembers a specimen of tuberculous lung being shown to him by a scientific investigator, who in all good faith drew attention to its “beauty.” The investigator had no thought of the evil in the diseased pieces of tissue, simply because he was not immediately concerned to destroy the disease. He was studying it, and the particular specimen of it was so excellent that it moved the student’s admiration. This separation of the evil thing from its evil character is quite legitimate and even necessary in particular cases and for particular purposes. But when we are dealing with evil as a whole, or evil as such, to attempt any separation of the kind even in thought is obviously absurd. For we cannot separate evil itself from its own character as a thing repulsive, disgusting, to be fled from, or fought to the death. To treat evil itself in a dispassionate spirit merely as a problem or subject of study is to deny to it its real character, to treat it as something other than it is. It belongs to the essential distinction between good and evil that one is to be sought and established, the other to be avoided and cast down. Deliberately to seek evil and eschew good is to say, “Evil be thou my good,” and “Good be thou my evil.” Such a proceeding involves not merely a moral crime but also an intellectual falsehood. And to treat good and evil simply as theoretic problems apart from the consideration of our practical behaviour towards them, must tend to the confusion of the distinction between them. That is the reason why almost all philosophic theories of evil are so profoundly unsatisfying. No doubt philosophers who treat evil as a problem to be solved, may and do also treat it as an enemy to be fought. Their error lies in trying to keep the two points of view distinct, and in imagining that while evil is treated dispassionately as a neutral, any solution of the problem can be found. The problem of evil is essentially how to fight and to escape it. To treat evil in any other way is in effect to deny the problem and make solution superfluous, even were it possible.

The Christian gospel then meets the difficulties of the problem in the truest way by subordinating its explanation of evil to the means of overcoming it which it provides. True, it cannot provide those means without making some assertion about the origin of evil. It must deny that God is its cause; it must deny also that there is a devil beyond God’s power of control; for thus alone can it maintain the ultimate difference and contrast between good and evil, while affirming the Almighty Righteousness and Love, on which the whole gospel rests. But it leaves the theoretic explanation of its dogma to appear, when its offer of salvation has been accepted. Meanwhile it calls upon our faith.

Yet another consideration points to the reasonableness of this procedure. The result of evil upon those whom it affects from within is not only to pervert the will but to warp the judgement. Evil prevents a man not only from walking uprightly but also from seeing straight. Mr. Bernard Shaw in the preface to one of his volumes of plays[1] thus accounts for the failure of his early efforts as a novelist. He tells us how he once had his eyes tested by an oculist. This oculist found Mr. Shaw’s eyesight quite uninteresting, because it was normal; but on being asked further whether normal vision were commonplace, he replied, that, on the contrary, it was very rare. In the physical sphere then quite normal vision is unusual, and Mr. Shaw concludes, somewhat hastily perhaps, that in the spiritual sphere his views are unusual, not because his spiritual vision is perverted, but because it is quite normal. The analogy is instructive. But what if normal vision in spiritual things is rarer even than Mr. Shaw, in his vicarious humility, supposes? What if none of us can see really clear and straight? If that be so, we cannot perhaps see evil in its true colours because it is still dimming our eyes. We cannot account for it, because it is still darkening our understandings. In these circumstances is it unreasonable that we should first try a remedy which promises to free our faculties from the influence of evil, and trust that afterwards we shall understand whence the influence came? Surely Christianity is most reasonable in confronting the evil of the world with an Atonement, a message of victory and release. No objection to its appeal can be based on the ground that the explanation of evil is not first declared. In the nature of the case evil must be got rid of before it can be explained, and attempts to explain it first are from the outset doomed to failure.

In the light of the gospel‑message we must now examine more closely how the nature of evil appears and what is the salvation which Christ has brought. Evil the enemy has a double form. It takes the form of sin and the form of suffering which culminates in death. Evil then appears not as one enemy only, but as two. Over both the gospel of the Atonement offers an ultimate triumph, but the first enemy against which it inspires our conflict and promises victory is sin. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death. That triumph will be accomplished only when the conquest of sin is complete. Until sin is conquered, suffering and death must be endured, and indeed it is through following Christ in the endurance of them that the victory over sin is won. It is sin alone therefore that here and now must be treated as evil without qualification.

Here, then, is the first lesson of the Atonement, that the essential nature of evil is sin. And this is in accord with the teaching of our own experience. Human nature, in regarding suffering and death as evil, has always found their essential cause in sin. The connection between cause and effect has often been crudely represented, as in the disciples’ question, “Did this man sin or his parents, that he was born blind?” But the fact that the blame for a particular case of suffering cannot always be attributed to a particular person, does not at all destroy the other fact, that so long as we regard suffering as in the full sense evil, we are bound to find its cause in something which has the nature of sin. Take any case of innocent suffering brought about, so far as we can tell, by pure accident. Why do we regard it as evil, why does it excite feelings of protest, indignation and revolt? Surely because we feel such suffering to be peculiarly unjust, unrighteous and cruel. If it can be shown that the suffering is none of these things, then our protest ceases, we no longer regard the suffering as evil in the worst and truest sense. But injustice and cruelty belong essentially to the character not of suffering but of sin. Therefore the conclusion follows that when we regard a thing as evil, we attribute to it inevitably the nature of sin. A man may be driven by suffering to curse God and die; yet thereby he is witness, that it is not simply suffering as such which has brought him to despair, but the merciless cruelty which the suffering to him expresses. There is surely a strange confusion in the minds of some writers, who, in order to acquit mankind of guilt, deny the existence of sin in the world, and yet persist in implying that the suffering of the innocent remains as evil as before. Obviously, if there is no sin, there can be no cruelty or injustice, and if there is no cruelty or injustice in suffering, then it is difficult to see in what sense suffering is evil.

The argument is difficult to grasp, just because the language we use so habitually implies that everything which is in the full sense evil has the nature of sin. But let us steadily think away from our idea of evil everything that suggests sinfulness, and note the result. Consider some evil event, which does not appear to be directly due to sin, say, the crushing to death of a child in an accidental collision. Of course if the result be simply that the child is taken away to a happier life, we shall gladly admit that the event is not really evil at all; and it will cease to be evil, not because the pain of the death disappears, but because the unfairness and cruelty of it are removed by the result. But if we still think of the event as really evil, and yet remove from it all notion of sinfulness, all idea that it is really cruel or unfair, are we not reduced to hopeless self‑contradiction? Must we not admit that we called the event evil, chiefly because we thought it so cruel; and that if the evil of it be reduced to mere pain devoid of all moral meaning whatsoever, the evil itself begins to disappear? If then evil be real, if it be more than a mere hallucination and more than a mere transition towards good, it is impossible to think that it has its source and ultimate nature in mere pain, that it signifies nothing sinful in the constitution of our world. For if we suppose that pain be a real evil, not a transition towards happiness and goodness, then immediately the existence of pain in the world appears as cruel, that is sinful. And we may go further. Even if that appearance be delusive, even if the cruelty and injustice of the world are mere ideas of ours with no existence at all anywhere, then our world becomes a deceitful mockery, a vanity of vanities, more than ever in its essential constitution immoral, more than ever the kind of world we should have expected it to be, if a lying devil had made and were ruling it.[2]

We cannot really escape the conclusion. The sting, the bitterness, the essential nature of evil are only found in sin. We know not, perhaps, where the sin resides, nor whence it came, nor who should bear the blame for its existence. But it is the essential evil of the world. We are in evil case because somehow we are infected by its influence, and in recognising this truth the gospel of the Atonement at once attacks the enemy in his real stronghold. [3]

How then in the light of the gospel does the nature of sin appear? Our conception of sin will always depend on what is to us the highest revelation of goodness. If the highest good we know is to realise our own ideal, or our higher self (as the cant phrase has it), then sin is simply our failure to do so, a falling short of a possible achievement. If the highest good is the fulfilment of a law, then sin is a breaking of the law, a transgression or a trespass. If the highest good is to live in communion with God, to be in truth the child of a Heavenly Father, then sin is essentially a breach of that personal relationship, and its result the separation from God which such a breach effects. That is the Christian conception. The gospel seeks to assure us that when the appalling sinfulness of things seems to shut out the very possibility of the Divine goodness, we have not yet penetrated to the secret of the universe; we are in the presence of a vast barrier which shuts us out from the knowledge and the fellowship of the Love which is still almighty. Every wrong thought or act is essentially sinful, because it rejects that Love and fortifies further the obstacle which hides it from our knowledge.

In other words, we are to conceive the whole sin of the world on the analogy, more or less, of the misdoings and misunderstandings which probably caused the most unhappy hours of our childhood. Consider the relationship of any normally naughty child to any normally good and loving parent. The childish offence consists essentially in the rejection of the parent’s loving care, which has probably taken the form of some salutary prohibition which the child disobeys. The immediate consequence of the disobedience is the separation from fellowship. The open, frank relationship of mutual trust and affection is at once impaired. The child feels the difference none the less acutely because he is unable to define it, and he may very probably be driven into deceit, not so much in order to screen himself as to recover what he has lost. The attempt is always a failure, and unless some kind of reconciliation - expressed or understood - takes place, a quite trivial misdeed may bear a whole harvest of misunderstanding and estrangement. For the presence of sin not only burdens the conscience, but warps the judgement. To the unrepentant child even the kindest of fathers will appear unfair, harsh and suspicious.

Now it is on this analogy, in a broad sense, that the Christian gospel interprets the evil of the world. Sin effects an alienation from, a breach of fellowship with, God, and the doubts and horrors and pessimisms of humanity have their source in the nature of sin. It is because of wrong done and love rejected that our spiritual vision is so distorted and so dim. Did we sin or our parents, that we were born blind? In the particular case, who shall say? But except we repent, except atonement be made, the penalty, the consequence of sin, is on us all. The communion of the love of God which fills all things has somehow been shut out, and all the wickedness and error and pain of the world are the growth from a sinful sowing.

Where then is the remedy? What is the atonement that Christ has wrought? Let us again return to our analogy. The fellowship which the sin of the child has impaired can only be restored by an act of forgiveness on the part of the father. The sinful child cannot sweep away the barrier or bridge the gulf alone. It lies with the father who has been sinned against to forgive, before the restoration can take place. But forgiveness can only be real and effective on certain conditions.

(1) It must cost something to forgive. An easy‑going consent to let bygones be bygones is no true forgiveness at all. If the forgiveness really proceed from love, the sin will have caused more pain to the father than to the child, and it will not be easy for him to forgive. He will have suffered for the child’s sin, and it is that suffering which gives value to the forgiveness. The power to forgive is not to be obtained for nothing, it must be bought at a price, it must be paid for with the suffering of him who has been sinned against.


“And Thou didst grant mine asking with a smile,

Like wealthy men who care not bow they give.”


Not so can worthy forgiveness be bestowed.

(2) But again, to turn from the father’s part to the child’s, forgiveness can only be effective if the child is penitent, i.e., if he is deeply sorry for his sin, because he realises what a horribly evil thing it is. Without such realisation, no forgiveness can take place. External penalties may be remitted, but apart from penitence such remission will only justify the offender in making light of his sin. Moreover, though external penalties be remitted, the inward penalty which is the essential consequence of sin, viz., separation from fellowship, will remain; and the gulf will grow wider in proportion as impunity encourages the sinner to make light of what he has done. Crime would, indeed, be hardly serious, if, as some optimists seem to suppose, it would vanish with the abolition of criminal courts. Unfortunately the chief problem in dealing with a sinner lies in making him penitent and therefore forgivable.[4] The first stage of the remedy must be to bring him to a knowledge of his sin, that he may repent. Our Lord never urged His followers to forgive any sin apart from some sign of penitence on the sinner’s part. “If thy brother repent, forgive him,” was His consistent command. Unlike the sentimentalist of today who so often invokes His name, He knew that, where there is no penitence, forgiveness has no meaning. The unforgiving temper which Christ condemns is that which fails to recognise and to meet half‑way the first feeble impulse of penitence in the offender. The attempt to forgive the impenitent merely effects a confusion between good and evil, a confusion which is the invariable nemesis of sentimentality.

Let us then apply our argument to the forgiveness of man by God, which is the result of the Atonement made by Jesus Christ. In one sense the mere fact of our Lord’s Incarnation is itself an atonement. For in His Person He unites God and Man and removes the barrier which sin had erected in the way of their communion. But we need an atonement not only in the form of something shown to us, but in the form of something done for us. The language of the Bible repeatedly suggests, and Christian experience has constantly verified, the truth that the Death of Christ was a death for the sins of the world, and that because of the Cross and Passion of our Lord we are somehow forgiven by our Heavenly Father, and delivered from the bondage of sin to be again his children.

Perhaps the analogy we have already sketched may help us to determine in what sense that teaching is true.

(1) The Cross and Passion represent the terrible cost which the Divine Love paid in order to be able to forgive mankind. We are hereby assured that the forgiveness of God is real, just because it was not easy. If God be almighty, why could He not have forgiven man by a fiat which would have cost him nothing? The question will not be asked by one who knows by experience the meaning of real forgiveness. If it is asked, we can only reply that not so would God have commended His love towards us. The oldest theories of the Atonement represent the Cross as a price paid by God to the Devil in order to deliver mankind from his tyranny. It would be a grievous pity, if in superseding the primitive crudity and the legal formalism of the ancient speculations, we were to lose the whole scriptural conception of “price” or “ransom” as interpreting the death of Christ. Every human being who has forgiven a grievous wrong and thereby restored the offender to a fellowship which his sin had forfeited, knows that there is indeed a price of suffering to be paid for the reconciliation. And we may claim our Lord’s own authority for saying that not otherwise than we forgive each other, does God Himself forgive us all.

(2) Again from man’s point of view, the Divine forgiveness at whatever cost could not be complete apart from the penitence of man. The first step towards penitence is to realise the horror of sin, and it is precisely that horror and that penitence which the preaching of the Cross has awakened in countless souls hardened by sin beyond all hope of human redemption. The Cross in all its ghastliness and shame demonstrates, as nothing else could, not only the love which endured it, but also the nature and effect of the sin which brought it about. For a soul so redeemed there can be no question of making light of the sin which was the cause of a Saviour's Crucifixion. And the doctrine of the Incarnation enables us to say that the Cross was in a double sense the penalty of human sin. Suffering and death were inflicted by the sin of man, since clearly it was the wickedness of man which brought it all to pass. The Cross is then the penalty of sin, in the sense that one crime is the consequence of another. In the suffering and death inflicted on our Lord human sin found its terrible fulfilment. But also the suffering and death were borne by manhood in the Person of our Lord. The most terrible consequences of sin for a man could not be shown to man, unless they had fallen upon manhood. As we have seen, the worst consequence and the most essential penalty of sin is separation from the communion of the love of God. And we believe that in some mysterious manner beyond our comprehension, our Lord endured even that. The cry, “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken Me?” marks the culmination of the Atonement. In that utterance is recorded the true penalty of sin, which the Son of God alone could have strength to bear without perishing eternally.

Old theories of the Atonement have represented Christ’s death as a satisfaction for sin. Again there is danger lest the legal or ecclesiastical phrase should obscure for us the essential truth which it only half expresses. It is, of course, repugnant to us to argue as though an offended Deity required a human sacrifice to placate His wrath. Nevertheless even the divinest compassion is no more merciful than just, if it serves to palliate the utter evilness of sin. And how can that evilness be otherwise than palliated and made light of, if the consequences of sin never appear, or are, if the word may be forgiven, really shirked? God’s plan of atonement is utterly sincere, it obscures no truth, and evades no consequences, but in revealing the terrible truth to the utmost, it has found a way of escape. It has shown to man what man’s sin must bring upon man; yet the result of that revelation is not destruction, since the manhood of Christ was strong enough to bear it unharmed; and all men can through the knowledge of the penalty of sin, if thereby they be moved to penitence, receive the forgiveness of a Divine mercy which is also righteous and sincere. It was necessary then that Christ should bear the full penalty of sin for all men; in that sense His death was the satisfaction which man’s sin required.

What then is the essential effect of the Atonement? The death of Christ has shown at once the love of God and the terrible consequences of sin brought upon man. God is therefore able to forgive all men whom that death stirs to penitence, without palliating the sins which brought that death to pass. The barrier which shut men out from fellowship with God, the misunderstandings which shrouded His love from their sight, are gone, if a man will look to Christ and find in Him his penitence and his hope.

Yet here precisely lies the difficulty. How may we find in Christ our penitence and our hope? So far the reconciliation between Godhead and manhood, which Christ's death has accomplished, seems to lie outside our sinful human lives. It shows us the path to reconciliation, but it does not yet take us along it. Our reconciliation to God has become an abstract possibility perhaps, but it is not yet shown to be an accomplished fact, and unless it be, in some sense, an accomplished fact, a gift which has only to be accepted by us, Christ’s Atonement cannot help us, who because of our sinfulness are powerless to help ourselves.

It may be replied that seeing in Christ’s death at once the full horror of sin and the Divine Love of God, we may by that spectacle be moved to repent, and it has been shown that through Christ’s death God is able to accept that penitence so as to forgive our sin, without exacting from us the full destructive penalty which Christ has borne. Yet we are sinful men, and for that reason our penitence will be half‑hearted at the best. Nothing but the full forgiveness of God can restore to us our lost communion with Him; and if full penitence is necessary for full forgiveness our plight is as bad as ever. How can God treat an imperfect penitence as though it were perfect?

Hitherto we have regarded the Atonement simply as a problem in the relation between God and man; we must now deal with it rather as a problem in the relation between Christ’s Manhood and ours. Let us turn at once to St. Paul.

St. Paul’s whole preaching of Christ crucified hinges on two cardinal doctrines: (1) the doctrine of the representative or inclusive manhood of Christ, (2) the doctrine of justification by faith. The first of these doctrines we have already alluded to in another context. It was never actually formulated by St. Paul himself, for the abstract phraseology required for its formulation belongs to another age than his. Yet there can be no doubt at all that over and over again in his writings we come across the substance of the doctrine, and to recognise its presence there is essential to the understanding of Pauline thought. Texts like “We were buried with Him through baptism into death,” “Ye are dead and your life is hid with Christ in God,” and many others, express something more than a mere consciousness of communion between the individual Christian and his risen Lord. They rest upon the fundamental idea that the Death and Resurrection of Christ somehow include much more than the mere historic events which in the first instance they are. In Christ humanity has died and risen, Christ’s Death and Resurrection are facts of a universal human life, which all men may share and all Christ’s followers actually have shared. Clearly if we press this teaching, the Atonement wrought by Christ no longer brings to men a mere theoretic possibility of salvation; it is no longer something accomplished outside their own lives, giving them a chance which they lack power to use. It is something wrought in humanity as a whole, so that any man may claim in union with Christ to have shared His death for sin and have passed through to the resurrection-life of restored fellowship with God.

Yet at first sight this argument seems to prove far too much, and thereby to create more difficulties than it removes. For in point of fact even sincerely Christian men remain sinful and in many ways un‑Christlike. If the acceptance of Christianity were immediately followed by a transformation of the believer into Christlike perfection, then St. Paul’s doctrine would at least receive some support from the evidence. But that is not the case, and we are faced therefore by an ugly dilemma. Either (1) the doctrine that the believer has taken part in Christ’s Atonement must be pronounced a fiction; or (2) if the Christian’s reconciliation with God be indeed an accomplished fact, then it can be accomplished apart from a change of life, and the way is open to the worst excesses of lax morality excused by an appeal to “faith”.

But it is precisely this dilemma which St. Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith is designed to meet. St. Paul himself never defined faith; the definition was left for the greatest of his disciples, the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews. “Faith is the substance of things hoped for,” that is, translated into the cumbrous jargon of modern speech, faith is the means whereby we reach towards and realise in the present a consummation which is to be fulfilled in the future. The faith by which we embrace Christ is essentially such an effort of anticipation. In one sense when we first believe, we are not Christlike, we are not in Christ, we have not yet died to sin, nor risen again to the life of perfect communion with God. Yet we have taken Christ for our Master, we have set forth to follow Him, we believe that we may and shall be made more and more perfectly partakers of His Death and Resurrection‑life. Because the Manhood of Christ is inclusive or representative of ours, we may be one with Christ, while yet we are sinners, by the anticipation of faith, which is the substance of things hoped for. That faith is the spring of penitence. For when we believe ourselves in Christ to be capable of becoming children of God, then and not till then can we be penitent about our failure to behave like children of God. There can be no true penitence without the hope of faith; but the moment we have that hope, penitence is ours too; for it is as it were the reverse side of the act whereby faith bridges the gulf of time and reaches forward to the consummation that shall be.

And in answer to that penitent faith, which, imperfect as it is, is nevertheless the earnest of what in Christ we are becoming, God justifies us - that is, He reckons us and treats us as already one with Christ and in Christ, so that by the power of Christ’s Atonement the barrier between us and God is swept away, our sin is forgiven, and the Divine fellowship, which can only properly be bestowed on those who are Christlike, is restored to us already. Ideally this new beginning takes place once for all, as soon as by the initial act of faith, sealed in baptism, we have accepted Christ. Actually it takes place again and again; it has to be renewed as often as we fall back into sin. But since the Atonement of Christ includes all humanity, it is sufficient for all our sins. As often as we repent, renew our allegiance to the Master we have betrayed, and identify ourselves with Him by a fresh act of faith, so often God renews His forgiveness, His justification,[5] until at length we become in deed and in truth members of Christ and children of God in His eternal Kingdom.

The abstract and unfamiliar language in which St. Paul’s doctrine of justification is couched has disastrously obscured the intensely practical simplicity of its essential meaning. St. Paul’s language is the product of his age and training; his meaning is catholic in its application and eternal in its truth. Let us take an illustration which will bring out this fact by the force of a complete external contrast. Generations of mothers, nurses and governesses, since the world began, have learned and verified the lesson that the wavering self‑control of a child, which suffers complete breakdown if he is told “not to be a baby,” may be stimulated to further effort if he is told “to be a man.” Why? Because the mention of manhood makes appeal to the child’s faith, which is for him the substance of things hoped for. It is his proud belief that he is capable of manhood, and, when that faith is stirred, there is at least some chance that forgetting those things that are behind and reaching out to those things that are before, he will press toward the mark for the prize of that high calling (to him how pathetically high!) which he feels dimly to be his. All those who have had any experience of dealing with the young know well the need of responding to such faith. No method of treating a child is more effective for good, when wisely used, than the method of trusting him, or putting him on his honour - in other words, the method of treating him as the trustworthy man which he feels he has it in him to be. To a superficial view this method may seem to involve an element of fiction or make‑believe, yet it is a fiction and make‑believe born of a profounder insight into the truth. Even the weak‑willed child has the germs of honour and manliness within him, and by giving him credit for his possibilities we make them actual; we do not, of course, put into him any alien virtue from without, but we elicit something which was really his, but needed our trust to draw it forth. Now in thus treating a child we do essentially justify him by his faith. He believes in his capacity for manliness, and therefore we treat him as a man in order that he may become one. Not wholly otherwise, according to St. Paul’s doctrine, does the Heavenly Father justify all His human children. True, there is one important difference. The child’s faith, in the illustration we are taking, is a faith mainly in a power or capacity of his own, the Christian’s faith is a faith in Christ’s power to make His followers like to Himself. Yet ideally at least Christ’s manhood is ours also - at any rate, Christ has put it into our manhood to become one with His; and if we have the faith to reach out after that union, the Love of God, which knows our possibilities no less than our short‑comings, has no need of fiction in order to treat us as what in Christ we may become. For in Christ manhood has died to sin and for sin, and therefore the highest and strongest of all appeals can be made at once to any man whose faith will claim membership in Him - “Ye are dead; your life is hid with Christ in God; therefore seek those things which are above.” As St. Paul clearly perceived, the Law was powerless, because it made appeal to man on the ground of what he was not. It told him that he was a sinner in the same breath that it exhorted him to be a saint; just as our more modern ethics of evolution tell man that he is an ape, while they may, or may not, exhort him to be an angel. But the Gospel of the Atonement appeals to man on the ground of what he is: “You are in Christ, you are God’s adopted child, you are restored to fellowship; therefore behave yourself worthily of that gift.” Thus, in the old words of the woman of Tekoa, has God devised means whereby His banished be not outcast from Him.

Let us in conclusion summarise a somewhat tortuous and complex argument. Sin we defined as the rejection of the love of God, which inevitably leads to a separation from fellowship with Him. The problem of atonement is the problem of how God may forgive the sin of man, so that the lost fellowship may be restored. Mere remission of the penalty of sin is useless, for it cannot of itself restore fellowship; rather, it defeats that end by palliating the sin and making it appear as other than fatally evil. Forgiveness can only be real and restorative, (1) if it cost the forgiver something and thereby demonstrate his love; (2) if the sinner thereby see the horror of his sin, so that he be moved to penitence and the endeavour to amend. The Crucifixion of our Lord, viewed as God’s act in manhood fulfils the first condition, and makes the fulfilment of the second possible. For in Christ’s death the sinner sees not only God’s love but also the full penalty of sin for man, which, had he endured it himself, would have destroyed him; and he may thereby be moved to penitence, so that he may obtain forgiveness.

At this point, however, we found ourselves compelled to press our enquiry further as to the meaning of this latter possibility. Penitence is a difficult achievement and in a sinner will be imperfect. How does Christ’s Atonement put reconciliation to God actually within the sinner’s reach as a gift which he has but to accept? This question can only be answered in the light of the Pauline doctrines of Christ’s representative Manhood and of man’s justification by faith. The first teaches that ideally Christ’s Manhood includes ours, so that under the reconciliation between God and manhood which Christ accomplished all men are potentially covered. All have paid the penalty, all are restored. The second doctrine teaches how the ideal union between Christ’s Manhood and ours, already in a sense existing, may be realised by us. Faith is that by which we reach out in advance to that ideal union. The initial act of penitent faith, which, however imperfectly, takes Christ as its Lord and end, is the earnest of our full union with Him, which, though already real, has to be made actual and operative in us. In answer to that faith God treats us as already in Christ, restores us to His fellowship and thereby enables us to become in the end perfectly His children.


[1]Plays Pleasant and Unpleasant, Vol. I.

[2]The effect of this argument is to establish the reality of sin by a sort of ontological proof.

[3]The further definition of the relation of pain to sin and the message of the gospel in regard to pain we leave for discussion in Chapter V.

[4]For a fuller discussion of this whole subject see Dr. Moberly’s chapter on Forgiveness in Atonement and Personality.

[5]Justification may almost be called the Pauline equivalent for forgiveness. Forgiveness is void, unless it restores to fellowship, and that restoration is exactly what St. Paul means by the justification (the “being treated as righteous”) which is bestowed in answer to faith. St. Paul doubtless avoided the word “forgiveness,” because it would emphasise the negative remission of penalty instead of the positive restoration to fellowship. In the same way faith represent the positive movement towards a goal, penitence the negative movement away from evil, both being essentially included in one act.


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