The writer desires to express his obligations to various works from which he has derived much assistance, such as, above all, Du Bose's Gospel in the Gospels, Askwith's Conception of Christian Holiness, Tennant's Origin of Sin, and Jevons' Introduction to the History of Religion.
To the first and the last of these he is especially indebted in regard to the view here taken of the Atonement.
It seems to him that no view of that great and central truth can possibly be true, which (i) represents it as the result of a transaction between the Father and the Son, which is ditheism pure and simple; or which (ii) regards it as intended to relieve us of the penalty of our sins, instead of having as its one motive, meaning, and purpose the "cure of sinning."
So far as we can see, the results of sin, seen and unseen, in this world and beyond it, must follow naturally and necessarily from that constitution of the universe (including human nature) which is the expression of the Divine Mind. If this is true, and if that Mind is the Mind of Him Who is Love, then all punishment must be remedial, must have, for its object and intention at least, the conversion of the sinner. And, therefore, the desire to escape from punishment, if natural and instinctive, is also non-moral, for it is the desire to shirk God's remedy for sin, and doomed never to realise its hope, for it is the desire to reverse the laws of that Infinite Holiness and Love which governs the world.
Yet this must be understood with one all-important reservation. For the worst punishment of sin, is sin itself, the alienation of the soul from God, with its consequent weakening of the will, dulling of the reason, and corrupting of the affections. And it was from this punishment, from this "hardest hell," which is sin, or the character spoiled and ruined by sin, that Christ died to deliver us.
It follows that it is high time to dismiss all those theories of the Atonement which ultimately trace their origin to the enduring influence of Roman law. There is no remission of penalty offered to us in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The offer which is there held out to us, is that which answers to our deepest need, to the inmost longings of the human soul, "the remission of our sins."
The idea of a penalty owing to the "justice" of God is a thoroughly legalistic one, the offspring of an age which thought in terms of law. It deals throughout with abstractions. The very word "justice" is a general notion, a concept, the work of the mind abstracting from particulars. Justice and mercy are used like counters in some theological game at which we are invited to play. "Penalty," again, is a term which serves to obscure the one important fact that God, as a Moral Person or, rather, as the One Self-Existent Being, of Whose nature and essence morality is the expression, can only have one motive in dealing with sinners, and that is, to reconcile them to Himself, to restore them to that true ideal of their nature, which is the Image of Himself in the heart of every man. Who can measure the pain and anguish which that restoration must cost, to the sinner himself, and (such is the wonderful teaching of the Cross) to God, the All-Holy One, Who comes into a world of sin in order to restore him?
There is no room here, at all events, for light and trivial thoughts of sin. That charge might be levelled, with more excuse, at the view that sin only incurs an external penalty, from which we can be cheaply delivered by the sufferings of another.
And theories of the Atonement which centre in the conception of penalty are often only modifications of the crude and glaring injustice of the Calvinistic view. The doctrine of a kind of bargain between the Father and the Son, while it revolts our moral instincts, at the same time logically leads to the purely heathen notion of two gods.
There are two main principles which are essential to a right understanding of the Atonement: (1) The oneness of Christ both with God and with humanity. In regard to neither is He, nor can He be, "Another"; (2) the death of Christ was the representation in space and time of a moral fact. It happened as an "event" in history, in order that that moral fact, of which it was the embodiment and symbol, might become a fact in the spiritual experience of mankind. That death was more than a symbol, because it was the actual means by which that which it represented might be, and has been, in the lives of all Christians accomplished. These two principles the writer has, with whatever degree of failure or inadequacy, endeavoured to embody in the following addresses.
And yet the Atonement, which is, in the broadest aspect of it, Christianity itself, is a fact infinitely greater and higher than any mere theories of it. For it is nothing less than this, the personal action of the living Christ on the living souls of men. That his readers and himself may experience this action in ever-increasing measure is the prayer of him who, as he fears, too greatly daring, has endeavoured to set forth, yet once more, "The Glory of the Cross."