P.T. Forsyth On The Atonement

In regard to Christ’s cross, and within the New Testament, we are to-day face to face with a new situation. We are called upon, sometimes in the tones of a religious war, to set Jesus against Paul and to choose between the historic and the biblical Christ. We are bidden to release Jesus from Paul’s arrest, to raise Him from that tomb in which He was buried by the apostle of the resurrection, and to loose Him and let Him go. The issue comes to a crisis in the interpretation of the death of Christ. To treat that death as more than a martyrdom, or to allow it more than a supreme degree of the moral effect upon us of all self-sacrifice, is called a gratuitous piece of theology. To treat it as anything more than the seal of Jesus’s own faith in the love of God, or in His prophetic message of reconciliation is to sophisticate. To regard it as more than the closing incident in a life whose chief value lies in its history (which all the time criticism slowly dissolves), is a piece of perverse religious ingenuity much more like the doctrine of Transubstantiation. To regard it as having anything to do with God’s judgment on man’s sin, or as being the ground of forgiveness, is a piece of grim Judaism or gloomy Paulinism. The death of Jesus had no more to do with sin than the life of Jesus; and Jesus in His life made no such fuss about sin as Christianity has done. The death of Jesus had really no more to do with the conditions of forgiveness than any martyr’s. Every man must make his own atonement; and Jesus did the same, only on a scale corresponding to the undeniable greatness of His personality, and impressive accordingly.

Such teaching removes Christ from the Godhead of grace and makes Him but a chief means of grace to fellow-seekers. But a Church of the Gospel is not a band of disciples or inquirers, but a community of believers, confessors, and regenerates in Christ’s cross. An evangelical Church has stood, and stands, not only for the supreme value of Christ’s death, but for its prime value as atonement to a holy God, and as the only atonement whereby man is just with God. The atonement which raises that death above the greatest martyrdom, or the greatest witness of God’s love, is for us no piece of Paulinism.

…the first teacher of the atonement was the Christ who made it. It is no Paulinism, except in certain side lights. Had the apostles held the humanist view that what mattered was but the life, character and teaching of Christ, would they have given the hand of fellowship to Paul when he came to them with the view that biography mattered little compared with Christ’s death? Would Paul have taken their hand, with that gulf between them? And what a gulf! It is at bottom all the gulf between the genial Judaism of Hillel which let Christ go to His death as a fanatic and the Christianity which found in His death His deity. The whole history of the Church shows that there can be no standing unity of faith, spirit, or fellowship between those to whom Christ’s death is but a great martyrdom and those to whom it is the one atonement of the world and God, the one final treatment of sin, the one compendious work of grace, and the one hinge of human destiny.

…To bring sin home, and to bring grace home, we need that something else should come home which alone gives meaning to both—the holy. The grace of God cannot return to our preaching or to our faith till we recover what has almost clean gone from our general, familiar, and current religion, what liberalism has quite lost—I mean a due sense of the holiness of God. This sense has much gone from our public worship, with its frequent irreverence; from our sentimental piety, to which an ethical piety with its implicates is simply obscure; from our rational religion, which banishest the idea of God’s wrath; from our public morals, to which the invasion of property is more dreadful than the damnation of men. If our Gospel be obscure it is obscure to them in whom the slack God of the period has blinded their minds, or a genial God unbraced them, and hidden the Holy One who inhabits eternity. This holiness of God is the real foundation of religion—it is certainly the ruling interest of the Christian religion. In front of all our prayer or work stands “Hallowed be Thy name.” If we take the Lord’s Prayer alone, God’s holiness is the interest which all the rest of it serves. Neither love, grace, faith, nor sin have any but a passing meaning except as they rest on the holiness of God, except as they arise from it, and return to it, except as they satisfy it, show it forth, set it up, and secure it everywhere and for ever. Love is but its outgoing; sin is but its defiance; grace is but its action on sin; the cross is but its victory; faith is but its worship. The preacher preaches to the divinest purpose only when his lips are touched with the red coal from the altar of the thrice holy in the innermost place. We must rise beyond social righteousness and universal justice to the holiness of an infinite God. What we on earth call righteousness among men, the saints in heaven call holiness in Him.

Have our Churches lost that seal? Are we producing reform, social or theological, faster than we are producing faith? Have we become more liberal than sure? Then we are putting all our religious capital into the extension of our business, and carrying nothing to reserve or insurance. We are mortgaging and starving the future. We are not seeking first the Kingdom of God and His holiness, but only carrying on, with very expansive and noisy machinery, a “kingdom-of-God-industry.” We are merely running the kingdom; and we are running it without the cross—with the cross perhaps on our sign, but not in our centre. We have the old trade mark, but what does that matter in a dry and thirsty land where no water is, if the artesian well on our premises is going dry?

…You do not understand Christ till you understand His cross.*

*Forsyth, P. T. (1909). The Cruciality of the Cross (11–15, 18-19, 38-40, 45). New York; Cincinnati: Eaton and Mains; Jennings and Graham.

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About lalvin1517

I'm married with two children and pastor McCall Baptist Church in McCall, Idaho.
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