A Compendium of Christian Theology

By William Burt Pope, D.D.,

Volume Two

Chapter 3

Sin and Redemption


            No Element of Redemption in Sin

            Redemption from without Possible



Under whatever aspect viewed—whether as to the Being offended or the sinner who offends—there is no principle and no hope of redemption in sin itself. But, on the other hand, there is much both in the nature and in the development of human evil that suggests the possibility, probability, and certainty of a redemption from without. And the fact of this redemption gives a special character to the general doctrine of sin in all its branches

I. Sin has in itself no element of redemption, whether we think of the Divine character which makes sin what it is, or the human spirit in which the principle of evil resides

1. The Divine nature as holy must eternally abhor and can never be reconciled to it. God is of purer eyes than to behold evil, 1 save to condemn and remove it from His presence

Man's fallen nature itself bears witness to this; its true instinct is Depart from me, for I am a sinful man! 2 The God of love is a consuming fire 3 to all that is contrary to His purity; and if that consuming fire becomes a saving destruction of evil, that belongs to the mystery of grace, which is not yet in question. But the Holy Being is also a righteous Lawgiver; His nature and His will are in the revelation of the righteous judgment of God,4 not only against the abominable thing itself, but against the soul that doeth evil. 0 wicked man, thou shalt surely die! 5 is an Old-Testament word that finds its New-Testament confirmation: Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. 6 And here again the universal conscience of man finds that book of the law his own heart, where is written or engraven the sentence which, so far as it knows, is irrevocable. God cannot deny Himself; 7 nor does the human spirit deny Him His eternal opposition to sin. The justice of God Himself does not more faithfully guard His law than it is guarded by the conscience of man. Neither can conscience deny itself

1 Hab. 1:13; 2 Luke5:8; 3 Heb. 12:29; 4 Rom. 2:5,9; 5 Eze. 33:8; 6 Gal. 3:10; 7 2 Tim. 2:13

2. Nor has the sinner any power of redemption in himself. He has indeed in every age wrestled with the sin that rests upon him, but in vain: wrestled with it, knowing it to be wrong, and under the unconscious influence of a grace of which he knows not naturally the secret. He has striven to expiate its guilt by an endless variety of sacrifices that have never availed to take away the conscience of sin: he has never been satisfied with the propitiation either of his substitutionary offerings or of his own personal sufferings. His experience has always denied that sin could by its acts or sacrifices or sufferings put away its guilt. He has striven also to redeem himself by the discipline of philosophy and repentance. But equally in vain: he has never even professed to find holiness in philosophy, or to be capable of a true repentance. The fact that he has always combined these two-— the offerings for expiation and the attempt to mend his own nature—has attested the universal consciousness of our fallen race that both are necessary; the fact of universal failure has proved that in himself the sinner has no help. The altars of expiation in the temples of an unknown God, and the schools of philosophy hard by, were heathen anticipations of the Gospel that unites expiation and renewal, by one provision meeting both the guilt and the defilement of transgression. They were most impressive and affecting as such; but in themselves, and as evidences of the inherent hopelessness of sin, supremely monitory

3. More modern theories, borrowing the light of the Atonement they reject, have argued that Repentance is both expiation and recovery; they have not only appealed to a human instinct that accepts the penitence of an offender, but also to the language of Scripture itself which describes God as always accepting the penitent. Thus they contradict both the propositions which we have been establishing: neither is the nature of God eternally opposed to sin, nor is man's nature incapable of putting it away. As to the former argument, that of the analogy of human tenderness towards repentance, it omits to consider the difference not of degree only but of kind between our offences against each other and our sin against God; it forgets that there is no strict relation of sin but as between the Supreme God and His creature; no human analogy here suffices. As to the latter argument, that Scripture represents our Heavenly Father as always ready to meet His returning prodigal, it neglects to observe that wherever repentance is thus spoken of, an atonement either typical or real is always implied. The parable which brings the Father of spirits and the returning son to a midway place of reconciliation was spoken by Him whose name is the Mediator; His cross is stamped upon it though as yet unseen; and it is recorded in the same Gospel in which the Redeemer says, This cup is the new testament in My blood, which is shed for you. 1 If, in St. Luke's Gospel of free grace, the penitent went down to his house justified, after having only cried, God be merciful to me the sinner! 2 we must remember that his very word hilastheeti savors of the propitiatory sacrifice, that he spoke his contrition in the presence of the altar of atonement, and that he is justified according to the gracious non-imputation of sin which rested upon a satisfaction for human guilt as yet unrevealed. Both arguments fail to remember that man has no power to repent in the fullness of the meaning of the word; and that repentance is the gift of God, procured by the very Atonement that it is made to supersede: the Atonement of Him who was exalted to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. 3

1 Luke 22:20; 2 Luke 18:13,14; 3 Acts 5:31

II. All this being true, it is obvious also that sin and redemption have been intimately bound up together in the history of man. Sin exists in God's universe elsewhere; but, as it is found running its course upon earth, it gives tokens of a scheme of deliverance possible, probable, and certain

1. This may indeed be said of all evil, that, if a method of abolishing it can be found which shall be consistent with the Divine perfections, making objective atonement to His justice, and allowing His love subjectively to destroy the sin, it will be found by the Divine wisdom. The same instinct of our nature that assures us of the eternal hatefulness of sin to God teaches us that IF IT BE POSSIBLE 1 it will be removed. It may be said that we are arguing here in a circle: that we are supposing the very redemption that we assume to be a priori contemplated as possible. The objection must be accepted; but it strengthens our position, that there is inwrought by some means or other in the human mind a daring trust that for man at least some infinite resource in God is available. The entire system of revelation tells us that in the internal mystery of the Trinity such a method has been found. And here lies the unutterable preciousness of the doctrine of the Triune Essence. It is difficult to avoid anticipation at this point. The glory of the future Cross already shines upon the chaos of moral disorder. Christ Jesus, the Representative of man in the eternal counsel, if not in His eternal nature, has by His oblation of Himself once offered absorbed the punishment of sin and rendered its utter destruction certain in all those who make His Atonement their own by faith

1 Mat. 26:39

2. We need not complicate the question with the fact that lost spirits are unredeemed: they tempted us to sin but must not tempt our faith to doubt our recovery. Certainly there is nothing in the condition of human nature that shuts out the possibility of redemption

Its depravity, taken at the worst, is not a total extinction of every element that grace might lay hold on. In fact, the development of moral evil in the world has such a character as to suggest that man's nature was not found unredeemable, that it has been once the object of a mysterious intervention, and is ever undergoing the discipline of a process of recovery

The universal sentiment among men that God may be and in some sense is propitiated; the refusal of human guilt to give up its case as hopeless; the almost impossibility of persuading men generally that their sin is unpardonable; the voice of conscience speaking in every language under heaven, in the accents both of fear and of hope; the irrepressible yearnings after some great Deliverer and some great Deliverance, all proclaim that there may be redemption for man, and confirm the testimony of the Bible that for the face of human transgressors God has found a ransom.1

1 Job 33:24

III. Now the entire doctrine of Sin takes a new aspect from this gracious intervention, from this mystery of atoning love. In how many ways it affects that doctrine as displayed in the scheme of the Gospel we shall hereafter see. Meanwhile, it has this preliminary effect, that it shows us moral evil as the penalty and infection of a race continuing from generation to generation, and counteracted and vanquished as such. But this leads us directly to the doctrine of Original Sin, which marks the special peculiarity of evil in the family of man: at once its universality as surely propagated and the gracious alleviation it receives.