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There is, indeed, in all this no proper answer to the question as to the precise connection between the death of Christ and our forgiveness. We can understand that it was such moral elements as have been mentioned entering into the act of Christ in dying for us that gave that act infinite worth in the sight of God; we can understand that it was because Christ's love and holiness in submitting to death so faithfully reflected the very mind of God towards sinners and sin that His death was so well-pleasing to Him, was, to use the language of theology, “a satisfaction ” to the Divine Nature. But the real question is, how, having this worth for God, does Christ's death avail to our forgiveness? What is there in the fact that it possessed this moral glory to bring it about, that because of it and of what Christ is, God restores us to fellowship with Himself, and treats us, although guilty, as if we deserved His love ? That the death of Christ had this Godward aspect, that it did something to effect a change, not indeed of the heart or mind of God, but of His relation to men, that it was operative, in some real sense, in reconciling God to us as well as in reconciling us to God, we believe. The language of Scripture seems to point to this. The sense of guilt craves a forgiveness that is based on this objective reference of the work of Christ. It is another matter whether we can explain how Christ's work operates in this way. We seem here to have come to an ultimate fact beyond which we cannot get, which we may be able to illustrate by reference to human analogies, but the full rationale of which we cannot fathom. If, then, one or two remarks are added, their purpose is not to attempt an explanation, but to set this fact in a light that may commend it to our acceptance.
confession of sin by the Head of our Race, the Lord of the Church, who thereby furnishes the condition of Divine forgiveness” (Zur Versöhnungslehre, p. 88), See Note G.
1 We must beware of pressing this thought of God's needing to be reconciled to us, otherwise we will fall into the error of regarding Him as a vindictive God whose wrath has to be appeased before He can look with favour on the human race. We mean by such language that sin separates God from man as well as man from God, that the active manifestation of God's goodwill is withheld till the conditions necessary to its full expression are furnished. Caution must be observed in regard to all the figures of speech in which the effect of Christ's work is described. Pressing the metaphors and extracting from them dogmatic conclusions is a fruitful source of error. Religious language describing what Christ is in the experience of the believer must be used very guardedly when we try to deduce from it truth that lies outside experience.
It is to be observed, then, that Christ's accomplishment in placing sinners in a new and gracious relation to God by His death is in analogy with facts of life and God's moral government that strikingly illustrate the reign of grace in the world. It is a familiar fact that one who has deserved well of a friend, may, through this circumstance, be the medium of blessing to those who have by their personal conduct deserved punishment at the hands of that friend. We naturally give a portion of the affection that we feel for one who is very dear to us to those who have in themselves nothing to draw forth our love if they are dear to him. We take them into our favour because of what they are to him ; we do them good for his sake. This is the basis of intercession, which we know is a real power with God. He is moved (to speak humanly) by the prayers of His saints to bless with His best gifts those who have themselves done nothing to deserve His favour. Their being loved by those who stand high in His esteem is the ground on which they are dealt with apart from regard to their own personal acts. And the gracious relation into which mankind has been brought by Christ's act in dying for us is, as far as we can judge, the supreme instance of this principle. We can see no reason why God should deal with us so differently from what our sin deserves beyond this, that Christ, our Head, is the perfect revelation of God's love and holiness in humanity, and infinitely dear to Him, and that being so He brings blessing to the race to which He belongs, resulting in its being placed in a new relation of acceptance with God. We are restored to fellowship with Him for Christ's sake. This formula, “ for Christ's sake," is what our theologisings come to. It expresses in the simplest and most accurate form the thought that is present in all our theories without being open to the objections which can so easily be brought against one and all of them.
Two questions naturally suggest themselves when we follow this line of thought a step further. First, how are we to think of God as influenced in our favour by what Christ has done? What is the precise effect Godward of His work as our Representative? And here, I repeat, we must dismiss all notions of Christ's work having wrought any change on the mind or disposition of God toward us, or having moved God to love us. Rather are we to think of Him as having furnished, by what He did, the conditions that had in the nature of things to be present before the eternal love of God could be seen to be what it is, or could be believed in aright by us. If Christ, by the revelation He has given in His death of God's holy love, brings us into that relation to God in which He can have fellowship with us, then He has on that account abiding worth with God. And God loves and forgives us for His sake because, dying in obedience to the Divine Will, Christ has perfectly revealed the love and holiness of the Father and supplied the conditions, self-imposed by the very nature of Divine love, to its being seen to be what it is, and to its operating, according to its nature, on human hearts.
The other question is, how are we to think of benefit coming to us because of what our Representative has done on our behalf? How can God extend to us, who are unworthy, the favour that rests on His Son, who is allworthy ? Evidently there must be presupposed on our part a connection with Christ that consists in faith and penitence. There can be no mechanical transference of merit here. God can bless us for Christ's sake only because, Christ being seen by us to be the revelation of God's holy love, there is awakened trust in God and penetential sorrow for sin. The condition of our sharing in the Divine favour, of which Christ is the supreme object, is our incorporation with Christ, our attachment to Him by a living faith that reconciles us to God.
While, therefore, the personal obedience of Christ is the objective ground of the reconciliation of the human race to God, and men are dealt with for Christ's sake as if they had themselves rendered that obedience, this is so far only an ideal reconciliation; and in order that it may issue in the actual reconciliation of sinners they must receive the revelation of God's Holy love conveyed in the death of Christ and so share in that vicarious act of His. “One died for all,” says the apostle, “therefore all died” (2 Cor. V. 15); but this death of “all” was in idea or intention merely. It is to be realised by each in a faith that enters into the spirit in which the One died, before we can pass into the personal enjoyment of the reconciliation. Faith has, in the teaching of the apostle, this profound significance. It is a religious moral act in which, moved by the love of God, the man consents to the Divine judgment against his sin as expressed in the death of Christ, affirms its righteousness, and accepts what has been done for him by his Representative; and on the ground of this identification of himself with Christ, and penitent trust in the love of God manifested on the Cross, the sinner is forgiven and restored to fellowship with the Father. The work of Christ, then, can take effect in us only when its revelation of Divine love and holiness evokes our trust and the sorrowful sense of our demerit before God. And for the completion of what Christ has done there is needed the Gospel proclamation of what God's will in Christ is, and our consent of mind and heart to its requirement. God was in Christ reconciling the world to
Himself not imputing to men their trespasses, that is, not treating them as guilty, for (and now the apostle states the Divine arrangement which is the ground of this gracious treatment of the guilty) He has made the sinless One to be sin for us in order that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him. And then follows the entreaty of the Gospel, by compliance with which the intended result will take place, now, therefore, we beseech you in Christ's name be ye reconciled to God.1
The teaching of Paul has been charged with destroying the simplicity of the Gospel idea of faith, and substituting belief in a series of doctrines regarding the way of salvation for the simple acceptance of the message of forgiveness and personal trust in the Saviour. But while undoubtedly the Gospel is presented to us by Paul as a Divine arrangement, whereby, through the death of our Second Adam, forgiveness is conveyed to us in a way illustrative of the wisdom and love and holiness of God, while there is a doctrine of the Cross that appeals to the intelligence, yet the object of the faith that saves is the Risen Christ, apprehended as the human embodiment of the free grace of God to sinners, as the Divine gift conveying life and righteousness to all who accept Him.?
There is one objection, however, that may be taken to this entire scheme of thought by which the apostle inter
12 Cor. v. 19–21.
? It is when the question arises as to the reception by individuals of the benefit secured by the Death of Christ for the race as a whole, that the importance of the Resurrection in its bearing on the completeness of His work appears. It is as Risen and Living, and appealing to men on the ground of His love, that Christ makes efficacious to individuals that work of reconciliation that has respect to all. The bearing of Christ's resurrection on our justification is referred to in Rom. iv. 25, X. 9. That the faith that justifies has for its object the Risen Saviour, the Personal revelation of God's gracious love, has been illustrated with great fulness by Schäder in his Die Bedeutung des lebendigen Christus für die Rechtfertigung nach Paulus, 1893.