Writings Vol. Two
HOLINESS ROOTED IN A TRUE ATONEMENT.
THE questions that are now to occupy us I prefer to take
in their real sequence rather than as presented by Dr. Steele. The doctrine of
atonement is fundamental to that of holiness, as he evidently admits. We begin,
then, with atonement. And here we have a right to complain that, instead of
taking the "Plymouth view," as given by a "Plymouth" writer, he takes a
representative from the large group of supposed "sympathizers," for all whose
statements we are held responsible. How would Dr. S. treat us if we were to
take our views of Wesleyan Methodism, not from Wesley or Fletcher or any
acknowledged authorities, but, let us say, from Oberlin Presbyterianism instead
? Yet this last is in very evident "sympathy" with it. Why should our author,
after ten years' study, prefer to take his own views from Dr. Bishop rather
than from Mr. Darby, the head of the school? It is plain what would suggest
itself to most; but we would rather leave the question for himself to answer.
Why will he not accept our own statements of doctrines with which he charges
us? Surely it is not a righteous course.
Moreover, what Dr. S. charges upon us as "Plymouth" doctrine is no more that than it is of all the many who hold a true satisfaction for sin,- a true substitutionary work in the cross of Christ. As elsewhere also, he often charges us with what we do not hold at all. He quite expects to have his word taken for proof, if there be no other. Yet he is not consistent. On p. 40 he says,- "Theologians who state the doctrine of the atonement with proper safeguards, are careful to limit its vicarious efficacy to the passive obedience of the Son of God, His sufferings and death. His active obedience constitutes no part of His substitutional work. The germ of antinomianism is found in the inclusion of the latter in the atonement!" Now it is notorious that the "Plymouth" doctrine is completely cleared by this, and no germ of antinomianism can be found in it! For the people in question, it is well known, hold precisely that the Lord's sufferings and death were vicarious, but not His life, and they do not include the latter in atonement!
But they are not allowed to escape so easily. On p. 121, the charge is quite a different one. Here he says,- "The basis of the doctrine of imputed holiness is that theory of the atonement which represents that Christ ,Jesus, the sinless Son of God, in whom He was well pleased, was literally identified with sin so as to be 'wholly chargeable therewith, that we might be identified and wholly charged with righteousness.' This quotation is from Dr. Geo. S. Bishop, who proceeds to say, 'The atonement which we preach is one of absolute exchange, that Christ took our place literally - that God regarded and treated Christ as the sinner, and that He regards and treats the believing sinner as Christ. From the moment we believe, God looks upon us as if we were Christ. . . . We then are saved, straight through eternity, by what the Son of God has done in our place. . . . Other considerations have nothing to do with it. It matters nothing what we have been, what we are, or what we shall be. From the moment we believe on Christ, we are forever, in God's sight, AS Christ. Of course, it is involved in this that men are saved, not by preparing first,- that is, by repenting and praying, and reading the Bible, and then trusting Christ; nor the converse of this - by trusting Christ first, and then preparing something - repentance, reformation, good works,- which God will accept; but that sinners are saved, irrespective of what thcy are - how they feel - what they have done - what they hope to do - by trusting on Christ only; that the instant Christ is seen and rested on, the soul's eternity, by God's free promise, and regardless of all character and works, is fixed.' (pp. 121, 122.)
Now, as I have said, Dr. Steele has not the least right to demand that I should defend all this, any more than he, as a representative of Wesleyan Methodism, could be forced to defend all that Dr. Mahan or Mr. Finney might say for Christian perfection." Nor do I at all maintain that Dr. Bishop has guarded his words from abuse, as they might easily he guarded. Dr. Steele, on the other hand, has, after his usual manner, told us nothing as to whence he has derived this passage, or we might have found the necessary guarding in close proximity to what he has quoted. Again, I say, I am not concerned to defend it. Dr. Bishop would very likely refuse for himself with perfect justice to be held as representing the views of Plymouth Brethren in the matter. For the sake of truth, however, and to meet fairly all issues, I am not going to shelter myself from Dr. Steele's attack thus, but to state freely for myself how much I hold of this, and why I hold it. I prefer, however, to let Dr. S. state his objections, as he does at length, and to examine them one by one, as he states them. We shall thus have all before us whereon to found a judgment.
"1. Repentance is not necessary to saving faith." This I have, in fact, already answered. There is no true faith without repentance, no true repentance apart from faith. God has, in His perfect wisdom, provided for this. It would indeed be impardonable to represent God as if He were careless about repentance; and I am sure that Dr. Bishop would earnestly disclaim the thought. But nevertheless, what atones for sin, expiates it, purges sin from the soul, is not at all repentance, - nay, not even faith, but the precious blood of Christ. And the essence of repentance itself is that real rejection of the filthy rags of our own righteousness, no less than of our sins. Thus the eye of the convicted sinner is to be fixed, not upon his own repentance, as if that were any thing, but wholly and altogether upon Christ. And this is what is absolutely necessary to make repentance itself real and availing. Dr. S. will thus see that I contend folly for the necessity of repentance, and I can only trust that here, as often, his own heart is sounder than his creed.
Fix a sinner's eye upon his repentance, as if that were to be a makeweight in the scale of his acceptance, yon will find, if he be real, that he will never he free from the torturing doubt, "Have I sufficiently repented ?" On the other hand, let him flee from all the vain refuges of his own performances to Christ as Saviour, here is the best evidence of a satisfactory repentance. Christ, not repentance, is the Saviour, not a half not a whole one. What does not wash away my sin can never save; and a blessed thing it is to be enabled to torn a poor convicted one away from self in every shape - repentance, faith, or any thing else, to the blood of Jesus.
"It is not thy tears of repentance, or prayers,
But the blood that atones for the soul
On Him, then, who shed it, thon mayest at once
Thy weight of iniquities roll.''
Does not Dr. S. believe this? In spite of his words, I most
believe it of him. Otherwise what becomes of that initial justification which
the "seraphic Fletcher" preached, but to which he was not indeed, any more than
our author, always true,-" by faith without works"? Good works, as the fruit of
saving faith, and proof of its genuineness, have no place in this scheme of
salvation, and are distinctly repudiated ; and well they may be, since by the
first act of faith, as a bare intellectual, impenitent apprehension that God
punished His Son for our past, present, and future sins, 'the soul's eternal
salvation, regardless of character and conduct, is FIXED.' 'What we shall be
matters nothing, since we have a through ticket for heaven. St. James is an
impertinence in this scheme of salvation, and his epistle may well be called
Here is, indeed, the most serious objection to Mr. Bishop's language, while I am sure he would refuse the interpretation which I must say is here quite naturally put upon it. But the truth is, that He who fixes the salvation of the soul, fixes in this way no less its moral condition also: "We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them." (Eph. ii.) Blessed it is to know that a poor lost sinner coming to a living Saviour finds a salvation secured for him which is internal as well as external, from the power of sin as well as from guilt and from wrath. Will Dr. Steele say this is unworthy of Him? or that it is impossible to Him? And if it be possible, is it not most worthy? would he not be delighted to find it true? Dr. S. can put his hand upon no writings of "Plymouth Brethren," that I am aware of, that consider the epistle of James as a "strawy" epistle, or depreciate good works as the fruit and test of saving faith. They are surely both, but that does not for a moment make the works to be saving. Nor does it imply that we are to rest upon the works. "Lord, when saw we Thee a hungered and fed Thee ?" is a distinct repudiation of good works in this respect on the part of the righteous, exceedingly significant for Dr. Steele, since we know he accepts the "sheep" here as Christians in the day of judgment. Peace is through the work and word of Christ, and will never be found in any other way; while, if "sin shall not have dominion over you, because ye are not under the law, but under grace," we are right to press this as fully against laxity on the one side as on legality on the other.
Again, we do not account that saving faith is "a bare, intellectual, impenitent (!) apprehension" at all. And I boldly challenge Dr. S. to prove we do, not by fragmentary quotations from nameless writers, but by honest proof from accepted leaders among us. Yet again and again he asserts something similar to this. We all believe that a fruitless faith is no faith, and the best proof that Dr. S. has NOT found faith to be defined as a mere intellectual assent in our writings is that he has notproducedit. The writings are easily to be found. They are in honest black and white, and know not how to prevaricate or deal falsely in the matter. The charge on Dr. Steele's part is a rash and unworthy charge, and nothing else.
We go on to his third objection:-
3. That God regarded and treated Christ as a sinner, in other words, that He actually punished His Son because He was guilty of our sins." This language, again, I repudiate with all my heart. God did not "regard" His Son as a sinner. He regarded and treated Him as the Substitute for sinners. Nor was Christ "guilty of our sins," or punished because "guilty" of them. "Guilt "- at least in the sense in which we ordinarily use the word,- is not transferable, but penalty may be. "The chastisement of our sins was upon Him," says the prophet ; "God hath laid upon Him the iniqnity of us all." We alone were the guilty ones; the punishment was of our sins, but it was punishment. What avails it to quote Martin Luther against us, or an ex-presidentof the Y.M.C.A.? Dr. Steele's title-page says, "The Theology of the Plymouth Brethren Examined and Refuted." Luther, we had thought, at least, dated some centuries before. Some Calvinistic text-books use very much the language Dr. S. condemns. With what fairness could this be called the theology of Plymouth Brethren if even some of these may have used it? And this their accuser never undertakes to prove!
But his own theology is much more erroneous :- "We indignantly repudiate the monstrous idea that Jesus on the cross was a sinner overwhelmed with the bolts of the of Father's personal wrath. What we do affirm is that His suffering and death were in no sense a punishment, but a substitute for punishmeat, answering the same end, the conservation of God's moral government and the vindication of His holy character while He pardons penitent believers." (p. 124.)
This is what is called the "governmental theory" of atonement. It is indeed a theory, nothing else ; and a theory against which Scripture is decisive. The one text which Dr. Steele cites and seeks to explain- 2 Cor. v. 21: "He was made sin for us who knew no sin,"- is not only not the one argument, but not even the most conclusive one.
Yet, even here, if he would look a little below the surface, he might see that, granting the word "sin" to stand in this place for "sin-offering" (which the analogy of the Hebrew may be held to justify), there must yet be a reason for so significant a fact as that the same word stands for both these very diferent things. Why should this be, but because that which is made sin becomes thus the sin-ofering.
And if we look at the type in the Old Testament, what means this, that in the highest grade of it we see the beast so offered carried without the camp and burnt upon the ground without an altar? It is the thing, as the apostle in Heb. xiii. remarks, that makes the blood of the victim able to penetrate into the sanctuary,- that is, really to sanctify the offerer. "Without the camp" was the place outside of all that was owned of God ; and without an altar, shows that that which sanctifieth the gift is absent; the victim is in the awful place of sin upon which a pure God cannot look. This, at the cross, the darkness shows,- the withdrawal of light, and "God is light ;" while the Lord's voice out of it interprets for us,-" My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me ?"
Beside, however the word in 2 Cor. v. 21 may by itself be capable of the rendering "a sin-offering," yet if we look but a little further we shall see clearly why the Revisers did not so put it here. It is that "sin "is contrasted with "righteousness," as well as connected with the same word, "sin," following: "He was made sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made God's righteousness in Him."
Thus Dr. Steele has by no means justified the proposed rendering, nor if he had, has he got rid of the idea that is plainly to be found in the passage before us. "Common sense exegesis" is here at fault, as it often is, for what it means often is but a superficial, off-hand view, without the need of true spirituality or careful study of the Word ; and such, I grieve to say, is often the character of Dr. Steele's interpretations. But apart from this passage, what does Dr. Steele think of the passage in the prophecy already adduced,- "The chastisement of our peace was upon Him "? or of this: "The Lord hath laid upon Him the iniquity of us all "? Or of this from Gal. iii. io: "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us "? Or this from Peter (1 Pet. ii. 24): "Who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree "? Was not the curse on sin the punishment of sin? And this special curse,- so unaccountable in itself - that "he that hangeth upon a tree is accursed of God ": how can we view it, save as typically designed to mark out this one "death of the cross," which for those who realized the glory of the Sufferer would seem to be impossible to bear this character?
But Dr. Steele openly rejects the teaching of Scripture. His fourth objection is,-
4. We have insuperable philosophical and ethical difficulties in the way of receiving the statement that the guilt of the race was transferred to Christ. Character is personal, and cannot be transferred. Sin is not an entity, a substance which can be separated from the sinner and transferred to another and be made an attribute of his character by such a transfer. Sin is the act or state of a sinner, as thought is the act or state of a thinker. Neither can have an essential existence separate from their personal subject, any more than any attribute can exist separate from its substance." (p. 126.)
Much of this is mere misconception. The guilt of the race was not transferred to Christ. Could it have been, all men would be necessarily saved. Nor was guilt transferred, but penalty, as I have before said. Sins were laid upon Him, borne by Him,- transferred to Him therefore: so the Word (and we have quoted it) directly says. But they were laid upon, borne by Him, as a burden,- i.e., in their penalty. Sin was not made an "attribute of His character ;" who ever supposed it but Dr. Steele?
Thus his fifth objection we may for the most part pass over as already answered, and we shall leave Dr. Bishop to defend himself as to what is replied to him. Our author contends, however, that "while it is true that Jesus is our substitute, He is our substitute truly and strictly only in suffering, not in punishment. Sin cannot be punished and pardoned also. This would be a moral contradiction. . . . Sin was not punished on the cross. Calvary was the scene of wondrous mercy and love, not of wrath and penalty." (pp. 128, 129.) Yet Scripture says, none the less, "The chastisement of our peace was upon Him." Delitzsch says of the word emphasized, "We have rendered 'musar' 'punishment,' and there was no other word in the language for this idea. . . . David, when he prayed that God might not punish him in His anger and hot displeasure (Ps. Vi. 2), could not find a more suitable expression for punishment, regarded as the execution of judgment." (Isaiah, vol. ii., p. 318.) Think of any one saying of the dread cross of our Redeemer, "Calvary was not the scene of wrath and penalty "!
But "sin cannot be punished and pardoned also: this would be a moral contradiction." Not in the least! If the person who sinned were punished, this would be : but he to whom the due of sin is remitted is pardoned, though the due of his sin has been paid. For He who paid is He who remits.
If it were otherwise, and the due were not paid, there might be pardon, there could not be justification. Justification is only possible in one of two ways: either by the proving of innocence, which on our part is impossible, or by the proof that the punishment of sin has been borne. This is our case: we are "justified through Christ's blood." (Rom. v. 9.) Justification and pardon are in the same way opposed to one another, as are punishment and pardon: contrasted, indeed, in thought, but not contradictory in fact, in God's wonderful plan of salvation. All this, on Dr. Steele's part, is ignorance of plain Scripture. His closing sentence we shall have to look at further on. I only say that the "imputed holiness" with which he there charges us, we repudiate as much as he does.
One last objection remains
6. A limited atonement is the inevitable outcome of the doctrine that sin was punished on the cross. Whose sin?
If it be answered, That of the whole human race, then universalism emerges, for God cannot in justice punish sin twice. It must be, then, that the sins of the elect only were punished. Hence, at the bottom, this system rests on the tenet of a particular, in distinction from a universal, atonement." (p. 130.)
And the writer goes on to inveigh against the "Jesuitical cunning" of those he is attacking in not confessing their Calvinistic tendencies, closing with a report of a conversation with Mr. Darby, in which he answers a question upon election, in the frankest and most outspoken way possible!
But the truth is, the Plymouth Brethren in general do not believe in "limited atonement " in the sense in which this is usually understood. They accept Christ's being a propitiation for the whole world, in the ordinary acceptation of "world;" and in ten years of study our author should have discovered this. Nay, in another place he does give us some inkling of the truth. "They make a distinction," he says, "between the death of Christ for all, and the blood of Christ shed only for those who are through faith sprinkled and cleansed thereby. By this means God saves believers, and presents an 'aspect of mercy' toward all mankind." (p. 59.)
Dr. S. will allow me to put this in my own way, without meaning to pledge all my brethren to acceptance of it. I do not believe in what he calls "the old and exploded commercial theory - so much suffering by Christ equals so much suffering by the sinners saved by Christ." (p. 59.) I believe that Christ paid the penalty of sin, not an "equivalent" penalty merely, as even those who believe in a true "satisfaction" are mostly content to say. No, it was the PENALTY ITSELF upon men - death and judgment, the full wrath of God. True, He could not be holden of it. The Holy One of God could not remain under that which for the glory of God He had taken. He was "heard for His piety," "raised from the dead by the glory of the Father." But though necessarily and in righteousness delivered from it, He went into it, bore sin in its dread penalty, vindicated God's holiness as against it by submitting to its real due, glorified Him fully so.
The value of this obedience unto death is infinite. It is not a quantum of suffering - so much for so much sin; but God glorifies in a true Substitute drinking actually the sinner's cup; not Himself one, but a substitute.
For whom then a substitute? For the world as such? No: that would be universalism. For the elect as such, a definite number of people marked by this election? Again, no : that would be a strictly limited atonement, which would give no basis for a universal offer of salvation, and would not allow of Christ a "propitiation for the sins of the whole world."
These are the two alternatives of Dr. Steele: is there no other possible? There is, and it completely answers all demands. It is here: "Upon the seed of Abraham He taketh hold. Wherefore it behoved Him in all things to be made like unto His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful high-priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people." (Heb. ii. i6, ii.)
It is for His people, for the seed of Abraham, for believers, the atonement is made,- a satisfaction available for all the world upon condition of faith; actually such for all believers. It is an atonement unlimited in value and availability for all men ; limited only by the unbelief that slights or rejects it. This must be to Arminians at least a very intelligible thought. It answers, as I have said, all demands, and removes all difficulties.
Thus only when one believes does he cross from the place of condemnation into that of acceptance with God, and find sin really removed. "My faith" is NOT "a waking up to the fact that I have always been saved" (p. 35), as Dr. S. represents it for me, but a faith by means of which I am actually justified; although that which is the ground of justification is the blood of Christ simply and solely. And it was not God's laying the sins of believers upon Him that did or could remove mine UNTIL I was a believer. I grant this is opposed to the "commercial view " of atonement - so much suffering for so much sin, which Dr. Steele would insist on my defending. This would require just a definite number of foreseen and exactly appreciated sins to be laid on Christ,- mine, and no other's - in order to my salvation; and then it might be justly argued, I was justified before I was born. Scripture refuses this, and I refuse it. Yet as a believer I can say that my sins were really laid upon Him, and that He put them away from me by the sacrifice of Himself.
Upon a subject so central and fundamental as atonement I desire to be very plain, and I trust Dr. S. will find these statements free from the Jesuitical cunning which he so freely imputes. Is this the love that thinketh no evil? Is it not unworthy of himself?
Chapter Three - Justification and Acceptance with Christ.
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