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THE evil of the condition in respect of which we needed salvation, and the excellence of the salvation given to us in Christ; and the reality and exceeding greatness of the difficulties which stood in the way of our salvation, and which the Saviour had to encounter in accomplishing our redemption, have perhaps never been more vividly realised than by the great reformer Luther. And, though he does not afford much help to one seeking a clear intellectual apprehension of the nature and essence of the atonement, or of that might by which Christ prevailed; yet that his spiritual insight into these things has been great, is implied in the depth of his understanding of justification by faith, and of the relation in which peace in believing stands to that which our Lord asserted concerning himself when He said, "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father." I believe it will be of much advantage to us subsequently to occupy a little space here with the consideration of his teaching in relation to the atonement, and what it has accomplished.

I have referred more than may meet the indulgence of some readers, though less than my own feeling of its value as a source of light would have inclined me to do, to the experience of deeply awakened sinners. The great reformer was such an one: and this part of his history has impressed a special character on his teaching more than anything else that went to make him what he was. To any who read his words, not as extravagance and fanaticism, but,--as I believe they are entitled to be read,--words of truth and soberness, 33 his commendation of his great doctrine of "Justification by faith alone" from his own experience of its preciousness, is deeply interesting, and, I may say, most affecting. For, when Luther speaks of the law and the Gospel,--of the righteousness of works, and of the righteousness of faith, it is not as a speculative theologian, reasoning out principles to their conclusions, and arranging the parts of a system in their due relations. He speaks of the law as what wrought with his spirit until it had brought him to the brink of despair. He speaks of the gospel as what had spoken peace and life to him, and, by its revelation of Christ to his faith, had raised him as from hell to heaven. Seeking to be justified by works is to him no mere theological error, as to which he can conclusively reason. The very thought of it moves him to the depths of his being; renewing to him, with all its horrors, the past in which he had himself so sought justification, and stirring him to a vehement indignation against those who direct men's steps into that path of death. On the other hand, the righteousness of faith seems to be to him that of which he cannot speak without the renewed sense of his first peace and joy in believing, and of the excellent glory of that "new world" into which "faith mounts up, where is no law, no sin, no remorse or sting of conscience, no death, but perfect joy, righteousness, grace, peace, life, salvation, glory." (p. 84.) The law and the gospel in their relation to the human spirit, are to Luther as two spiritual regions which his spirit knows, having trembled and agonised in the one, and rejoiced and triumphed in the other;--but the former of which has no claim upon his presence in it, and ought to be to him as if it were not; being, indeed, done away by Christ, and having no existence now but through unbelief; while in the latter 34 it is the will of God that he should dwell by faith; to do which is to give God glory and be righteous in His sight. The vividness and picturing form of his speech is quite startling: yet is it in no sense figurative or rhetorical; for he is manifestly keeping as close to the simple expression of his mental and spiritual perceptions as he can. Reading his pleadings against the law, and for the gospel, it is impossible not to feel that he who gave such a fundamental place to justification by faith, was himself the preacher of it in an altogether distinctive and preeminent sense.

I shall endeavour briefly to express the conception of Luther's mind on the subject of the atonement which I have received from a careful study of his full commentary on the Epistle of the Apostle Paul to the Galatians.

This epistle has had a special interest to Luther, because he recognised Paul's controversy with the judaising teachers, by whom the Galatian converts to Christianity had been seduced, as substantially the same with that in which he himself was engaged with the church of Rome; and, as is common to him with the other Reformers,--his arguing on the subject of the atonement has a special character impressed upon it, by the relation to certain errors in the church of Rome in which he was contemplating it. Luther had not to contend with persons denying the doctrine of the atonement: what he had to contend against was human additions to the provision for peace of conscience and hope towards God, revealed in the gospel; and what we learn of his mind on the subject of the atonement is what he is led to utter in pleading for justification by faith alone.

I have said that no man ever more realised than Luther did, that there were actual difficulties in the 35 nature of things to be dealt with in accomplishing our redemption,--difficulties which a simple act of the Divine will could not do away with; but which have been successfully and triumphantly dealt with in the atonement for the sins of men, made by the Son of God. His deep feeling of the dishonour done to Christ by combining any other element with our vision of Him by faith, in our peace and confidence towards God, may have, in part, moved him to the use of the strong language which he employs, both in setting forth what Christ had to accomplish, and how He has accomplished it. But it is manifest that he could not speak of these subjects without feeling it difficult to find language strong enough for his convictions. And the law, and sin, and death, and the devil who had the power of death, are set before us as awful realities against man; and as to be encountered and overcome by Him who had undertaken to save man: and Christ's victory over them is seen in Luther's words, not as a simple act of divine, resistless, power, but as a moral and spiritual victory,--the triumph of good as good over evil as evil, of righteousness and life, over sin and death; bringing with it all secondary external results in its train.

Not that on these difficult and mysterious subjects, he does not,--as well as those who do not give the same impression of having approached them nearly,--leave us disposed to ask many questions. He, as well as others, speaks of our sins as laid upon Christ, without helping us to understand what this means;--while he is distinguished from others by the anxiety he shews to select the strongest words to express the identification of Christ with our sins; refusing (p. 300) to understand "was made sin for us," in 2 Cor. v. 21, as meaning a sacrifice for sin, (while he admits that the word used will bear that meaning) choosing rather to insist that 36 He was made sin for us in some more absolute way of identifying Himself with us and our sin, in order that we, with whose sin He had so identified Himself, might be identified with Him in respect of His righteousness; and that sin and righteousness meeting in Him, and righteousness triumphing over sin, we might partake in the triumph and all its fruits.--"Because in the self-same person which is the highest, the greatest and the only sinner, there is also an everlasting and invincible righteousness; therefore these two do encounter together the highest, the greatest and the only sin, and the highest, the greatest and the only righteousness. Here one of them must needs be overcome and give place to the other . . . righteousness is everlasting, immortal, invincible . . . therefore in this contest sin must needs be vanquished and killed, and righteousness must overcome and reign. So in Christ all sin is vanquished, killed and buried, and righteousness remaineth a conqueror and reigneth for ever." (pp. 294, 295.) This conception of Christ as the one man, having present together in Himself the sin of all other men, and His own righteousness, Luther endeavours in all possible forms of speech to present as an actual fact, and as what justifies, and underlies
such statements as that, "the Lord laid on Him the iniquity of us all," and that "He bore our sins in His own body on the tree." And, whatever difficulties the matter may have presented to Luther's own mind, or whatever difficulties his words may cause to us, attempting to attach to them a definite and consistent meaning, he leaves no room to doubt that what he sought to set forth he conceived of as a reality, and not as a legal fiction. For he thus illustrates the identifying of Christ with men,--"For when a sinner cometh to the knowledge of himself indeed, he feeleth, not only that he is miserable, but misery itself; not only that he is a 37 sinner, and is accursed, but even sin and malediction itself. For it is a terrible thing to bear sin, the wrath of God, malediction and death. Wherefore that man which hath a true feeling of these things, as Christ did truly and effectually fed them for all mankind, is made even sin, death, malediction." (p. 300.) But to think of Luther as really having any unworthy conceptions of Christ would be altogether erroneous. It was, doubtless, because of his great realisation of the divine and perfect righteousness which were in Christ, and which in the deepest, and doubtless, he must have felt only absolute sense were alone His, that he was able to use that which he thus calls an "apostolic liberty of speech" in setting forth the reality of His bearing our sins.

Such is Luther's teaching as to the retrospective aspect of the atonement. His teaching as to its prospective bearing,--the positive fruits of benefit to us through Christ's victory, the gift of eternal life itself,--is the following out of that root conception of Christ's identifying of Himself with us. In virtue of this identification, the freedom and righteousness and life which are in Christ, being His own proper endowments, and of which His coming under our sins did not despoil Him, but which proved themselves mightier than all that power of darkness,--coming forth triumphant from the conflict,--these all are ours. As ours we are called to recognise them. As endowed with them we are called to conceive of ourselves. As the provisions of the salvation granted to us we are to use them. As the elements of our new divine life we are to live in them and by them. They are all ours as Christ is ours,--"He is made of God unto us wisdom and righteousness and sanctification and redemption." Christ our life is presented to our faith, that believing in Him we may live,--yet not we, but Christ in us. Faith does not 38 make these high endowments, the elements of the gift of Christ, ours: they are ours by the gift of God. Faith apprehends them, accepts them,--gives God glory in accepting them; and thus faith saves by bringing us into living harmony with the divine constitution of things in Christ;--and, come into this harmony, God pronounces us righteous,--and, abiding in this faith, light, and life, and joy in God abound in us, and the end of God in Christ is being fulfilled in us;--partially now and here,--to be completely so hereafter.

I do not feel that I can more pointedly express Luther's conception of faith than in saying, that it lifts us into Christ and makes us one with Him, both in our own consciousness, and in God's judgment of us;--as we were, before faith, one with Him in God's gracious desire and purpose.

Luther's conception of how God is justified in "justifying the ungodly who believe," we may learn from what he says, first of Faith's own nature; and then of the results of the living relation to Christ into which it brings us.

First of Faith's own nature he says, "Paul by these words 'Abraham believed,' of faith in God maketh the chiefest sonship, the chiefest duty, the chiefest obedience, and the chiefest sacrifice. Let him that is a rhetorician amplify this place, and he shall see that faith is an almighty thing; and that the power thereof is infinite and inestimable; for it giveth glory unto God, which is the highest service that can be given unto Him. Now to give glory unto God, is to believe in Him, to count Him true, wise, righteous, merciful, almighty; briefly, to acknowledge Him to be the author and giver of all goodness. This reason doth not, but faith. That is it which maketh us divine people, and, 39 as a man would say, it is the Creator of (a) certain divinity, not in the substance of God, but in us. For without faith God loseth in us His glory, wisdom, righteousness, truth, and mercy. To conclude: no majesty or divinity remaineth unto God, where faith is not. And the chiefest thing that God requireth of man is, that he give unto Him His glory and His divinity; that is to say that he taketh Him not for an idol, but for God, who regardeth him, heareth him, sheweth mercy unto him and helpeth him. This being done, God hath His full and perfect divinity, that is. He hath whatsoever a faithful heart can attribute unto Him. To be able therefore to give that glory unto God it is the wisdom of wisdoms, the righteousness of righteousness, the religion of religions, and sacrifice of sacrifices. Hereby we may perceive what an high and excellent righteousness faith is, and so, by the contrary, what an horrible and grievous sin infidelity is. Whosoever then believeth God, as Abraham did, is righteous before God, because he hath faith, which giveth glory unto God; that is, he giveth God that which is due to Him." (pp. 250, 251.)

But, secondly, because this excellent condition of faith is in us but as a germ--a grain of mustard-seed--a feeble dawn, God, in imputing it as righteousness, has respect unto that of which it is the dawn--of which, as the beginning of the life of Christ in us, it is the promise, and in which it shall issue, even the noontide brightness of that day in which the righteous shall shine as the stars in the kingdom of their Father. So he adds in reference to the words "it was imputed to him for righteousness,"--"For Christian righteousness consisteth in two things, that is to say, in faith in the heart, and in God's imputation. Faith is indeed a formal righteousness, and yet this righteousness is not 40 enough; for after faith there remain yet certain remnants of sin in our flesh. This sacrifice of faith began in Abraham, but at last it was finished in death. Wherefore the other part of righteousness must needs be added also, to finish the same in us, that is to say God's imputation. For faith giveth not enough to God, being imperfect; yea our faith is but a little spark of faith, which beginneth only to render unto God His true divinity. We have received the firstfruits of the Spirit, but not yet the tenths . . . Wherefore faith beginneth righteousness, but imputation maketh it perfect unto the day of Christ, (p. 252.) . . . Wherefore let those which give themselves to the study of the Holy Scripture, learn out of this saying, "Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him for righteousness," to set forth truly and rightly this true Christian righteousness after this manner:--that it is a faith and confidence in the Son of God--or rather a confidence of the heart in God through Jesus Christ; and let them add this clause as a difference; which faith and confidence is counted righteousness for Christ's sake . . . For as long as I live
in the flesh sin is truly in me. But because I am covered under the shadow of Christ's wings, as is the chicken under the wings of the hen, and dwell without fear under that most ample and large heaven of the forgiveness of sins, which is spread over me, God covereth and pardoneth the remnant of sin in me; that is to say, because of that faith wherewith I began to lay hold upon Christ, He accepteth my imperfect righteousness even for perfect righteousness and counteth my sin for no sin, which notwithstanding is sin indeed." (p. 254.) The essence of the difference between the law and the gospel, as conceived of by Luther, seems to be shortly this;--that the law reveals man himself to man,--that the gospel reveals God to man;--that the 41 law brings man to self-despair, in order that the gospel may teach him faith and hope in God. Therefore, in the gospel, and not in the law, is God to be seen and known.

And this is substantially true. For, though the law, being love, may seem to reveal God who is love, yet is it rather a demand for love than a revelation of love; and, though it might have been, in the light of high intelligence, and where there was no darkening of sin, concluded that love alone could demand love, yet does the mere demand never so speak to sinners;--but "by the law is the knowledge of sin:" wherefore ''the law worketh wrath." But the first front and aspect of the gospel is, the revelation of love; then follows the end contemplated, the quickening of love in us, (in fact the fulfilment of the righteousness of the law in us,--Rom. viii. 4,) but its instrument of working is, not the law, but grace. "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins;" "We love Him because He first loved us."--"If God so loved us, we ought also to love one another."--I John iv. 11.

Therefore, the gospel being the revelation of what God is, rather than of what He calls for,--though therein implying what He calls for, and providing for its accomplishment,--Luther, understanding this, rests, not in the scheme of redemption as a plan, or in the work of Christ as a work, the parts of which he is careful to analyse, that he may turn them to their several uses in his intercourse with God; but, in the scheme and the work, and shining through all the details of the work, he sees God appearing to him as He is in Himself, as He eternally is; and he yields his heart and his whole being to the attraction of the heavenly vision. Thus he learns that "God is the


God of the humble, the miserable, the afflicted, the oppressed and the desperate, and of those that are brought even to nothing; and His nature is to exalt the humble, to feed the hungry, to give sight to the blind, to comfort the miserable, the afflicted, the bruised, the broken-hearted, to justify sinner, to quicken the dead, and to save the very desperate and damned. For he is an almighty Creator, and maketh all things of nothing." (p. 321). Not that the law had not spoken truly of God, not only when it declared the will of God as to what man should be, but also when its terrors were revealed in the conscience, through its testimony of God's wrath against sin;--but it left untold,--it was not its function to tell,--what deeper thing than wrath against sin was in God--even mercy towards the sinner.

So Luther, as one whom "the gospel hath led beyond and above the light of law and reason into the deep secrets of faith,'' (p. 168) and to a knowledge of God to which reason had not attained, commenting upon the words--"Seeing the world by wisdom knew not God, in the wisdom of God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe," applies them as teaching "that men ought to abstain from the curious searching of God's majesty." (p. 100.)--For "true Christian divinity setteth not God forth unto us in His majesty, as Moses and other doctors do. It commandeth us not to search out the nature of God; but to know His will set out to us in Christ. (Ibid.) . . . Therefore begin thou there where Christ began, viz. in the womb of the virgin, in the manger, and at His mother's breasts, etc. For to this end He came down, was born, was conversant among men, suffered, was crucified, and died, that by all means He might set forth Himself plainly before our eyes, and fasten 43 the eyes of our hearts upon Himself; that thereby He might keep us from climbing up into heaven, and from the curious searching of the divine majesty. Whensoever thou hast to do, therefore, in the matter of justification, and disputest with thyself how God is to be found that justifieth and accepteth sinners; where, and in what sort He is to be sought; then know thou that there is no other God besides this man Christ Jesus, Embrace Him and cleave to Him with thy whole heart, setting aside all curious speculations of the divine majesty. For he that is a searcher of God's majesty shall be overwhelmed of His glory. I know by experience what I say. But these vain spirits, which so deal with God that they exclude the Mediator, do not believe me. Christ Himself hath said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man cometh unto the Father but by me,"--John xiv. 6. Therefore, besides this way, Christ, thou shalt find no way to the Father, but wandering, no verity, but hypocrisy and lying, no life, but eternal death. Wherefore mark this well in the matter of justification, that when any of us wrestle with the law, sin, and death, and all other evils, we must look upon no other God but this God incarnate and clothed with man's nature . . . Look on this man Jesus Christ who setteth Himself forth to us to be a mediator, and saith "Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you,"--Matt, xi. 28. Thus doing, thou shalt perceive the love, goodness and sweetness of God; thou shalt see His wisdom, power, and majesty, sweetened and tempered to thy capacity. Yea thou shalt find in this mirror and pleasant contemplation all things according to that saying of Paul to the Colossians: "In Christ are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge." . . . The world is ignorant of this, and therefore it searcheth 44 out the will of God, setting aside the promise in Christ to his (its) great destruction, "For no man knoweth the Father but the Son, and he to whom the Son will reveal him."--Matt. xi. 27.'' (p. 101.)

"Philip saith unto him, Lord, shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us. Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father."--John xiv. 8, 9.

I add two more quotations to the same effect. "For in Christ we see that God is not a cruel exactor or a judge, but a most favourable, loving and merciful Father, who to the end He might bless us, that is to say, deliver us from the law, sin, death, and all other evils, and might endue us with grace, righteousness, and everlasting life, spared not His own Son, but gave Him for us all. This is a true knowledge of God and a divine persuasion which deceiveth us not, but painteth God unto us lively (living)." (p. 389.). "For the true God speaketh thus; No righteousness, wisdom, nor religion pleaseth me but that only whereby the Father is glorified through the Son. Whosoever apprehendeth this Son, and me, and my promise in Him by faith, to him I am a God, to him I am a Father, him do I accept, justify and save. All others abide under wrath because they worship that thing which by nature is no God." (p. 390.)

How does this language recall that of the Apostle John,--"And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know Him that is true; and we are in Him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life. Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen."--I John v. 20, 21.

One other point remains to be noticed that we may have distinctly before us Luther's teaching on the 45 subject of the atonement,--I mean the weight which he lays on the personal appropriation of the atonement as of the very essence of faith.

Of course, teaching as the result of the victory of Christ over all our spiritual enemies, that Christ was made of God unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption, and setting forth this as a constitution of things established by God in His love to man, and revealed to be known and received by faith, he could not teach merely that men might appropriate Christ and His work,--that they were at liberty so to do, and invited so to do, and that Christ was freely offered to them, and would become theirs by such appropriation. He must needs teach that such appropriation was of the very essence of faith; being implied in the most simple reception of that which was revealed. But he has a further reason for insisting on this, viz., that in this personal appropriation he recognised at once the power and the difficulty of FAITH.

The teaching I refer to is in his comment on the words, "who gave Himself for our sins,'' in which, after insisting on the power of these words to destroy all felse religions, "For if our sins be taken away by our own works, merits, and satisfactions, what needed the Son of God to be given for them? But seeing He was given for them, it followeth that we cannot put them away by our own works," (p. 104)--he adds--"But weigh diligently every word of Paul, and especially mark well this pronoun "our" for the effect altogether consisteth in the well applying of the pronouns, which we find very often in the Scriptures, wherein also there is ever some vehemency and power . . . Generally and without the pronoun it is an easy matter to magnify and amplify the benefit of Christ, viz., that Christ was given for sins, but for other men's sins which are worthy. But when 46 it cometh to the putting to of this pronoun our there our weak nature and reason starteth back, and dare not come nigh unto God, nor promise to herself that so great a treasure shall be freely given unto her." (p. 105.)

This is said in reference to the difficulty in believing in forgiveness noticed above as what comes to be felt as soon as the need of forgiveness begins to be realised. Of this Luther was fully aware, as well as of the unmeaning, and, indeed, self-righteous nature of those general confessions of sin which unawakened sinners so easily make; combining with them as easily expressed a trust in Christ:--in reference to which he says--"Men's reason would fain bring and present unto God a feigned and counterfeit sinner, which is nothing afraid, nor hath any feeling of sin. It would bring that is whole, and not him that hath need of a physician, and when it feeleth no sin, then would it believe that Christ was given for our sins." ''But," says he, "learn here of Paul, to believe that Christ was given, not for feigned or counterfeit sins, nor yet for small sins, but for great and large sins; not for one or two, but for all; not for vanquished sins (for no man, no, nor angel, is able to subdue the least sin that is), but for invincible sins. And except thou be found among those that say "our sins," that is which have this doctrine of faith, and both hear, love, and believe the same, there is no salvation for thee (p. 106.) . . . I speak not this without cause, for I know what moveth me to be so earnest that we should learn to define Christ out of the words of Paul. For indeed Christ is no cruel exactor, but a forever of the sins of the whole world . . . Learn this definition diligently, and especially so to exercise this pronoun our that this one syllable being believed may swallow up all thy sins." (p, 108.)

I have reluctantly curtailed these quotations from


Luther's commentary on the apostle Paul's Epistle to the Galatians,--into the spirit of which the great Reformer has so truly entered. The deep insight into our redemption, as it has taken its character from our being "under the law" and "'unjust," which he manifests;--his vivid realisation of "the grace wherein we stand," being redeemed;--his true appreciation of the glory which God has in our faith;--his discernment of the relation in which the peace and confidence towards God, which are present in faith, stand to the perfection of the revelation of the Father in the Son; the personal interest in Christ, which he recognises as possessed by all men, and revealed to faith in the gospel; and the importance which he attaches to an appropriating response on our part:--these all are aspects of truth which I am thankful should now be present to the mind of my reader in Luther's strong and vivid form of speech. As to my immediate subject--the nature of the atonement--I have admitted that he does not offer much help towards a clear intellectual apprehension of it. Christ's identifying of Himself with us, "joining Himself to the company of the accursed, taking unto Him their flesh and blood," in order that in humanity He might encounter "our sin," and "our death," and "our curse" (p. 301); and the consequent conflict between these and Christ's own eternal righteousness, as meeting together in Him,--and the triumph of that divine righteousness, issuing in our redemption;--these are conceptions which he may have been content to hold as matters of revealed fact, but still mysteries which precluded clear intellectual apprehension. Yet the earnestness with which he insists upon the presence together of these opposites in Christ, and on the reality of their conflict as matter of consciousness to Christ,--taken along with his true understanding of our participation 48 in Christ and His righteousness, give, me the conviction that Luther was indeed contemplating spiritual realities which had a place in the work of redemption, when using language as to the nearness of the relation to us, and to our sin, into which Christ came, which has, and not without cause, given so much offence. In Luther's apprehension, Christ's bearing of our sins was not a mere imputation in the mind of another; it was a deep and painful reality in His own mind; and the victory of righteousness in Him was not such in respect of the award to righteousness by another, but a victory obtained by righteousness itself as a living divine might in Him. A legal fiction would be no explanation. The assumption of a delusive consciousness Luther would reject. What the truth of the case has been, (and which, as having taken place in humanity, may be expected to be utterable to men,) Luther's words, as he has written, do not make us to know; whatever spiritual truth these words have had in his own mind:--for interpreted according to their plain grammatical meaning, the words by which he expresses Christ's relation to our sins cannot be true. His use of them is, therefore, not to be defended. Yet shall we suffer loss if we allow ourselves to suppose that as used by a man of so much spiritual insight as Luther they had not a meaning at once true and important. Indeed, if there be not a true sense in which Christ did bear on His spirit the weight of our sins, and all our evils, and did deal with the law of God as so bearing them, seeking redemption for us,--and did triumph in so doing by the might of righteousness, Luther's marvellous teaching of justification by faith alone is left a superstructure without a foundation.

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