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In view of the conclusions already attained, it may appear superfluous to consider the dogma of the Atonement; but, as it is the cardinal doctrine of Protestantism, let us briefly test the claims of vicarious expiation on the reason and faith of mankind.
Notwithstanding that Moses engrafted on Judaism an elaborate ritualism of blood, the Hebrew Scriptures generally affirm that man's repentance wins divine forgiveness. In Exodus xxxiv. we read of Jehovah as a merciful, gracious, long-suffering Deity, ever ready to forgive the sins and transgressions of his people; and Isaiah, having emphatically denounced ceremonies and sacrifice as revolting to Divinity, proclaims unconditional pardon for all who forsake their sins and return to their God.2
John the Baptist exhorted all men to repent, in absolute unconsciousness of the divine demand for atonement; sacrifice was a word unheard in the kingdom of heaven; and the Son of Man, in depicting the final Judgment, awarded salvation, not to vicarious, but to individual merit. How, in fact, could the Preacher of the Mount have invited his disciples to imitate Divinity by freely forgiving all injuries, if he knew that
1 Isaiah i.
2 Isaiah ly. 7,
his Father in heaven was an inexorable Judge, inflexible in the demand for a victim before listening to the plea of repentance ?
The Evangelists who profess to record the discourses of Jesus after his Resurrection, attribute to him no final revelation of a Gospel of blood. The compiler. of the Acts of the Apostles puts into the mouths of Peter, Stephen, and Paul, speeches which disclose absolute ignorance of the doctrine of the Atonement. And the author of the Epistle of James, which stands next to the Logia of Matthew as a reliable record of the teaching of Jesus, knew of no sacrificial element in the Gospel of the kingdom,
The Epistle to the Hebrews, composed with the obvious design of reconciling Judaism and Christianity through the allegorical interpretation of Scripture, is the original source of that theological fiction which accepts the death of Jesus as the antitype of Mosaic sacrifice ; but can we permit an anonymous theologian to corrupt the teaching of the Son of Man, through an imaginary relationship between the barbarous rite of sacrifice and the appalling tragedy of Calvary? This epistle was identified with the Pauline school; and we, therefore, find the works, more reasonably assignable to the pen of the great apostle, interpolated in the same spirit of aliegorical theosophy. Thus in 1 Corinthians v. 7, we read, 'For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us.' And in Ephesians ii. Jesus is depicted as abolishing in his flesh the law contained in ordinances, and including Gentiles in the covenant through his blood.
The author of the first Epistle of Peter speaks of redemption through the precious blood of Jesus, but as he also depicts the Father judging all men, without respect of persons, according to their works, he cannot be called a preacher of the Atonement.
The first Epistle of John refers to the death of Jesus as a propitiation for the sins of the whole world ; 1 but when the author adds, 'Hereby know we love, because he laid down his life for us : and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren,'? we detect how divergent are his views from the modern theory of expiation.
When and by whomsoever the fiction of Messianic sacrifice was introduced into primitive Christian literature, we possess the indestructible fact that, according to the personal teaching of the Son of Man, he died, not as a voluntary offering for sin, but as the reluctant victim of a prophetic destiny, which he would have joyfully escaped, but that he interpreted the imaginary decrees of Hebrew bards as the will of his Father in heaven. 3
Turning towards the earliest records of the second century, the creed put into the hands of modern believers as apostolic contains no reference to the Atonement. Clement of Rome speaks of the blood of Christ shed for our salvation, but he also affirms that God has, in every age, accepted man's repentance, and that charity will save all those who turn towards Him in purity and holiness. Barnabas emphatically condemns a ritualism of blood as a misapprehension of what is pleasing to the Deity, and concurs with Isaiah in commending virtue as the only true sacrifice. The Shepherd of Hermas, once read in Christian congregations as inspired Scripture, is silent respecting the Atonement, but sees in divine forgiveness the necessary sequel of human repentance, and declares that the sins of all who have suffered for the name of Jesus shall be freely blotted out.
1 1 John ii. 2.
2 1 John iii. 16. 3 The passages in Matt. xx. 28 and xxvi. 28, referring to the death of Jesus as a ransom for many, are obviously ecclesiastical interpolations, irre, concilable with his teaching.
The theory of sacrificial expiation finds no place in the writings of Justin, Irenæus, Athenagoras, Clement, or Tertullian ; and both Cyprian and Lactantius attribute salvation to good works. Origen, interpreting the language of Paul— for ye were bought with a price'affirms that the human race was in the power of the Devil, who demanded and obtained the blood of Christ as the price of our redemption. But, on the other hand, Athanasius assumes that Jesus died to bestow on all men the resurrection from the dead--a divergence of opinion which discloses the mental confusion of theologians in the third and fourth centuries, when considering the death of Jesus, not in the light of his own statements, but through their own ideal conceptions.
The creed-makers of Nicæa knew nothing of that form of vicarious expiation which demands the blood of Jesus to satisfy the justice of God. They tell us that Christ came down from heaven for our salvation, and thus affirm, not the modern doctrine of the Atonement, but the visionary dream of Gnosticism, depicting Monogenes descending from the Pleroma as the Saviour of Humanity. Pseudo-Athanasius was somewhat in advance of the Confession of Nicæa, when he affirmed that Jesus suffered for our salvation,' but so indefinite a reference to the central doctrine of modern Christianity fails to establish that believers of his generation concurred with the orthodox views of the Atonement held in the nineteenth century.
The doctrine of the Atonement, oscillating between a ransom due to Satan and a sacrifice demanded by God, existed in so mythical a form for nearly a thousand years that its invention or discovery may be justly assigned to Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, who flourished towards the close of the eleventh century, and founded that school of ecclesiastical metaphysicians who accepted their own fallacious conclusions as the spiritual insight of divine mysteries. Anselm affirmed that, although other means of salvation were at the disposal of Omnipotence, God chose the death of Christ to manifest his love towards man; and that, as Christ died without sin, a reward was due to him which he transferred to mankind in the form of pardon for sin. He, however, added that human nature could not be restored unless a penalty were paid to God impossible to humanity, and therefore paid by Christ as God. These conclusions, as fanciful as the theosophic dreams of Egypt, Persia, or Greece, were not, however, sufficiently definite for the final evolution of the Atonement; and the speculative question of expiation was practically solved, in a barbarous age, through the Eucharistic miracle of recurrent sacrifice.
The public sale of Indulgences in the sixteenth century was the immediate cause of the Reformation; and as this abuse of Papal authority involved the existence of human merit, its negation, through the doctrine of the Atonement, became the favourite study of Protestant theologians; and reformed Synods, apparently as