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HAVING, in this attempt to illustrate the nature of the atonement, insisted so much on the application of the words, "In Him was life, and the life was the light of men," to the whole work of Christ in making His soul an offering for sin, I am anxious not to be misunderstood as to the aspect of the subject of the atonement, in which it has appeared to me reasonable to expect it to be light to us, and not darkness; and that, in closing this volume, the reader should carry away with him a distinct conception of the limits, which, in writing, I have realised, and kept in view.

I have not attempted to divest the subject of the atonement of all mystery. I have not cherished the hope, or, in truth, the desire, of doing so. The self-righteousness that takes the form of a submission of faith to mysteries, I, indeed, feel to be altogether a delusion. The assumed merit of a blind faith, in addition to the error implied in all conception of merit on our part in relation to God, involves the absurdity of expecting to please God by exalting one of His good gifts, to the depreciation of another gift, equally to be traced up to the grace of the Father of lights. Any manner of subordinating of reason to revelation must be wrong, in which it is forgotten that we honour God in assigning to reason its due place, as truly as we do in assigning to revelation its due place; for to be jealous for reason is to be jealous for God, as truly as to be jealous for revelation is to be jealous for God. If self 372 comes in, and forgets that reason is a gift, as well as revelation, and, claiming reason as its own, is puffed up on behalf of that which we have thus identified with ourselves, the temptation that thus arises to exalt reason and depreciate revelation is obvious, and the evil consequences to be anticipated great. But the remedy, the true and the only remedy, is, that we should hear the voice of God in reason as well as in revelation--that God in whose presence no flesh shall glory.

But as to mysteries, reason has its mysteries as well as revelation; and to shrink from mysteries, is to shrink from all deep thinking on any of the high problems of our existence. The practical question for us, as God's thinking, intelligent offspring, always is as to the limit of light and darkness; which practical question we are to entertain under the sense of this twofold responsibility; that, as it would be wrong to attempt to push beyond that limit, or to be impatient of its existence, so would it be also wrong to fix it more near to us than it is in the truth of things, or at least in relation to the dispensations of light vouchsafed to us by God. For would not this be to refuse to use some portion of the grace of God to us, and be one form of folding in a napkin and hiding in the earth a talent of which an account must be rendered?

Therefore, under the sense of a responsibility of which the twofold aspect has appeared to me thus unquestionable, I have now considered the elements of the work of Christ as what His participation in humanity, and our participation in the divine nature through Him, seemed to place within the limit of the light of life that shines for us in Him; while I have simply recognised, abstaining from all attempt at 373 explanation, or elucidation, the underlying and deeper facts of the relation of man to God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, implied in the relation of the work of Christ to all men, and in the spiritual reality of that which is stated when it is said, that "this is the testimony of God, that God has given to us eternal life, and that this life is in His Son." As to these deepest facts of our being and of our relation to God, I have not even attempted to determine the line that separates the darkness and the light now; or at all to say what its eternal and necessary place is; while neither am I to be understood as passing any judgment on attempts to do so, or on the going of others nearer to that awful line than I have done. But I am anxious that the reader should realise how much on the light side of that line I have kept, having determined to approach it no more nearly than an attempt to illustrate the nature of the atonement required me to do.

Reason has its mysteries as well as revelation, the mysteries of deepest interest to us being, indeed, common to them both; though, inasmuch as revelation carries us further into the region to which mystery pertains, the sense of mystery in occupation of mind with the discoveries of revelation is greater. But the aspect in which the atonement has now been contemplated does not belong to the proper region of mystery at all. That region, whether as respects reason or revelation, is the divine and the infinite; and the atonement has now been considered simply as a transaction in humanity, contemplating results in man, to be accomplished by the revelation of the elements of that transaction to the spirit of man, and in a way of participation in these elements on the part of man. It is not in this transaction, viewed in itself, that mystery was to be expected, or could exist, but in that relation 374 of the Son of God to man which this transaction presupposes. This relation, whether we contemplate it as participation in our flesh, or as that relation to us in the spirit in respect of which Christ is our life, having power over all flesh to this end, is indeed a mystery as to its nature and manner, and to be known by us only in its results.

And this is true, whether we contemplate the personal work of Christ in making His soul an offering for sin, or His work in us in respect of which it is true, that when we live to God we must say, "Yet not we, but Christ liveth in us." The divine perfection of sonship in humanity, presented in Christ to our faith, is, in respect of its perfection, what leads us up to the mystery of the divinity of Christ as truly as His power to quicken and sustain sonship in spirit and in truth in us does. I can realise neither without feeling shut up to the faith of the divinity of the Saviour; while that faith so accords with the facts the contemplation of which thus leads directly to it, that, being received, it sheds light on them. For, believing in the divinity of Christ, we see how the atonement has that commensurateness with the infinite evil of sin, and infinite excellence of righteousness, which imparts to it its peace giving power; we see how Christ is near to us in that nearness that accords with His being our life, and has that power in relation to us which justifies the confidence that through Christ strengthening us we can do all things.

But viewed in itself, this faith has in it the deepest mystery; but it is mystery in the region in which we are prepared for mystery, being, first, in the manner of being of God, and then, where the line of meeting is between God and man. For here, also, we are prepared for mystery; and while we expect to understand 375 what pertains to the human side of this line and to the divine nature as in humanity, we do not expect to understand what is on the divine side, and pertains to the acting of God as God. As to that ultimate mystery which our faith receives in believing in God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, while in itself eternal, and irrespective of all finite existence, we can only be called to the study of it in its manifestation in connexion with man. But even in this manifestation there remains a necessity for recognising the distinction now made. What the divine sonship is in its spiritual essence and consciousness, as presented to our faith in Christ, and as that to the fellowship of which we are ourselves called in Him, this, the very nature of the divine purpose in relation to us prepares us to expect to understand. But the nature of the relation of the Son of God to humanity, whether we contemplate His own personal work in making His soul an offering for sin, making an end of sin, and bringing in everlasting righteousness, or His work in men as putting forth the power in them which is implied in His being their life;--this belongs to the acting of God as God, and to the divinity of the Son of God, in an aspect of the subject which all experience in thinking of our relation to God prepares us not to be able to understand.

Nor is the question of how this can be, or what the manner of the divine acting is, which it implies, the only mystery here. The faith of the divinity of the Saviour, while in one view it affords light and explanation as to the facts which constitute the gospel, in truth involves and deepens all the moral and spiritual mysteries of our existence.

I believe, as I have said, that the faith of the atonement, and the faith that we have eternal life in Christ, is more easy to us when it rests on the faith of the 376 divinity of Christ. Indeed, apart from that previous faith, the faith of what the gospel reveals Christ to be to us, is to me impossible. I cannot believe in one as my life, of whom I am not warranted to think as God; while, remembering that in God I live, and move, and have my being, I seem prepared to be told--I had almost said to understand--that the divine life of sonship is what I am to live in and by the Son of God as my life. The universal relation of men to the one Son of God, as He in whom they all have the life of sonship, accords as perfectly with the divinity of the Son of God, as it contradicts every lower conception of His being; and the Apostle, who preached to the Athenians, in relation to the unknown God whom they ignorantly worshipped, that "in Him they lived, and moved, and had their being," must be regarded as only presenting to our faith another part of the truth of man's mysterious relation to God, when He makes known the mystery hid from ages and generations,--the mystery of "Christ in men the hope of glory." Nay, how closely the one revelation is related to the other, we must see, if we connect the use which the Apostle makes of the recognition of man's relation to God by one of their own poets--"For we are all His offspring," with our relation to Christ in respect to that life of sonship in which alone men can call God Father in spirit and in truth. Surely the parallelism of these relationships to the Father and the Son is a help to our faith in the divinity of the Son, as it also explains the fact that this mystery of the divine existence is made known to us. But still, as I have said, this mystery, apart altogether from what men have felt of its intellectual difficulty, deepens the previous mysteries of reason with which all thoughtful minds have been exercised from the beginning.


Thus the great mystery of combined dependence and independence, as presented by our relation to God,--the mystery implied in the fact that in God we live, and move, and have our being, and yet that we may be the opposite of what God wills us to be; this is not removed, but only deepened by all the thoughts of our relation to God which are connected with our relation to the Son of God.

If we think of the matter in the way of considering how, in the nature of things, the spiritual constitution of humanity can be a reality, there is no question that a manner of nearness to God and to goodness, is suggested by the statement that "God has given to us eternal life in His Son,"--understood as implying an actual relation of our spirits to Christ as present in us--our true and proper life, which it is still more difficult to reconcile in our thoughts with the fact of what in sin men are, than even our "living, and moving, and having our being in God."

If, again, we look at the subject in relation to the divine will as a will concerning us, the choice of God for men, in proportion as the gospel reveals the "love" in which the law has its root, and shews the demand "for love" to be the demand of love, the difficulty that exists in the fact of our being other than that love desires that we should be, is increased, and reaches its maximum of difficulty when the love, which is seen seeking our well-being, is seen as the fatherliness that is in God, and its choice for us is seen as participation in the life of sonship, and the provision for the realisation of that desire, is seen in the gift to us of this eternal life in the Son. Assuredly the mystery, the moral and spiritual mystery, is here increased in proportion as it is seen to be a mystery thus involving infinite love. But though increased 378 by all that magnifies God's unspeakable gift, let us not forget that it is not less truly the mystery of reason than the mystery of revelation.

Doubtless it is with a sense of mystery, often altogether oppressive, that we look upon human sin and degradation, and then pass upwards to the Father of the spirits in whom the sin and degradation present themselves, and meditate on the thoughts of that Father in relation to them, and on all that our faith apprehends of what He has done, and is doing, to accomplish in them the good pleasure of His goodness. But though this mystery is greatest in the light of the gospel, it is great, very great, in the light of all those witnesses for His goodness towards men, without which God has never left Himself; and in respect of which the charge is just, that, in not being thankful, men were refusing to glorify God as God.

Some would cut this knot by saying, that all contradiction between what God is, and what God wills, is but apparent; that nothing is, or can be, other than what God wills it to be;--and that facts in the moral and spiritual region, even those that seem most contrary to the mind of God, are really related to Him just as physical facts are--hatred and love as much as cold and heat. Hatred may believe this, but love cannot. Self may believe that there is an end present to the divine mind which all moral events equally and necessarily subserve, and with reference to which it is that God wills them to be, and which it may call the divine glory. But love cannot believe that the divine glory is of this nature, or that that will, in respect of which God is love, and the manifestation of which must be His glory, can, in respect of moral beings, be fulfilled but in their loving.


The existence of a contradiction between what man is, and what God wills him to be, is indeed a mystery. The faith of the fact, however, is demanded by what is highest and deepest within us; which forbids our grasping at a seeming intellectual consistency of thought, at the expense of denying this contradiction, and accepting all the fearful moral and spiritual results which such denial involves. And even as to the intellectual relief sought, in denying that contradiction between man and God, which all ascription of goodness to God, and all hope of goodness for man alike imply, (for if evil be not contrary to the will of God, what hope of deliverance from it?) this seeming intellectual relief is but such in seeming; for it is but the removal of the contradiction, from where conscience recognises its existence, to place it in God Himself, by representing Him as what the Apostle so solemnly disclaims His being--a fountain giving forth at the same time sweet waters and bitter.

Nor can we be otherwise than thankful for the utter failure of all attempts made in this direction to solve this great moral and spiritual mystery; for its weight is nothing in comparison of what would be laid upon us by taking away the faith that God is love which involves that mystery, and representing the great First Cause as at the most only an intelligent fate. Nay, we may surely say, that what of mystery in relation to the actual facts of human existence, as it presents itself to us, the faith of love involves, the faith of love will itself enable us to submit to in the patience of hope.

But if the love of God to man presents deep mysteries, and mysteries that deepen to our apprehension as our faith that God is love is real, having also more 380 claim on our attention in proportion as they are not intellectual, but moral and spiritual; and, more especially, if that spiritual constitution of the kingdom of God in relation to man, which the gospel reveals, be the deepening to the utmost of that mystery which the contradiction between what man is and what God wills him to be presents, how have I now attempted to illustrate the nature of the atonement, without entering upon the consideration, either of this moral and spiritual mystery, or of the intellectual mysteries to which the atonement is related? Because none of the mysteries which encompass the atonement are so related to it, as that we must first solve them before we can understand it; a course the opposite of this is rather that to which we are called; and whether we would ascend upwards to questions connected with the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, or meditate on the present or future of man, the due preparation for these regions of thought, is, the exercise of faith in the actual condition of things which the gospel reveals, and which, in the light of the kingdom of God within us, and in the measure in which we are taught of God, we know as the truth.

I have, therefore, felt at liberty to consider the nature of the atonement, without first considering the mysteries which encompass it. Nay, what I have just said implies, that I must have begun with this subject, had my ultimate purpose been to consider these mysteries; so that even in regard to those questions in relation to God and man, which take us most to the verge of light, the inquiry which has now engaged us attaches to itself all the interest and importance which may be felt to belong to them.

But while I hope for good only from all holy and 381 reverent meditation on any of the deeper subjects of thought to which I have now referred, my immediate purpose has not been to offer help towards such meditation, though I should be thankful to be found to have actually done so,--as doubtless much of what has now been presented to the reader's consideration has been such help to myself,--but my immediate object has been the urgent practical one of illustrating that spiritual constitution of things in which, in the grace of God, we have a place, and to which we must needs be conformed if we would partake in the great salvation. Such conformity, that Amen of faith to the atonement which I have sought to illustrate, is that to which our Lord calls us when He says,--"Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,"--adding, in order that we may be altogether free to give heed to the call, the assurance, "and all other things will be added unto you." All inquiry as to what is the truth is solemn, and the sense of responsibility that belongs to it, weighty. But, manifestly, that inquiry becomes more solemn, and that responsibility more weighty, in proportion as the answer to the question,--"What am I to think?--What am I to believe?"--becomes one with the answer of the question,--"What am I called to be?" And this is the solemnity, this the importance that belongs to the question of the nature of the atonement.

The reader who has accompanied me to the close of this volume, in the fair mind, and with the patience of love, has, I trust, felt that throughout I have simply sought to awaken a response in his own inner being,--whether in this I have succeeded or have not,--and that I have written, not with the interest of theological controversy, but as a man communing with his brother 382 man, and giving utterance to the deep convictions of his own heart as to the spiritual need of humanity, and the common salvation. For I have written as seeming to myself to hear, and as desiring to be used to help others to hear with personal and practical application, the Son of God saying to us, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no man cometh unto the Father, but by me," the Father saying to us, ''This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye Him."


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