Studies in Christian Essentials

By Harry E. Jessop


Chapter 9


The Christian religion has a bleeding heart. In this it differs from others -- at its very center stands a cross. Its most meaningful word is sacrifice, and that sacrifice is eternal in its principle; for although manifest in time, it was conceived in eternity, in the very mind of God before the world began. Jesus is the "Lamb slain from the foundation of the world."

The word sacrifice, when written both vertically and horizontally, forms a cross, as the following example will show. (The example has been omitted in this digital edition -- DRM) Central to that cross is the letter I. It is not without significance that I is also the center of the sin and Saviour a fact which is at least suggestive. The center of sin is the capital I -- the exaggerated and exalted ego. We have capitalized the letter to indicate the exaggerated fact. The center of sacrifice is also the capital I -- but this time the essential self, giving itself for others. The center of Saviour is also the capital I. It is not His doctrines but Christ himself that ensures our salvation. Written both ways, horizontally and vertically, each of the three words forms a cross, the central fact being the I.

That central, sacrificial Cross, the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, towering upward reaches heaven, linking itself to the very throne of God (Rev. 5:6). Striking downward it reaches hell, triumphing over all its powers (Col. 2:15; Heb. 2:4). Reaching outward it has two all-embracing arms, and by these it brings together a sinful race and a holy God, from whom the race has been so sadly estranged.

Since God is immaculately holy and man is inherently sinful, it is essential that some common ground be found on which they might be brought together. Calvary supplies that ground.

The saving work of Christ, by reason of His Calvary atonement, comprehends two vital facts: atonement for sin and salvation from sin. Between these facts of for and from an outstanding distinction exists and an even balance of thought must be kept. The for has to do with the sacrifice itself, while the from has to do with its results. The distinction must always be recognized between the fact of the atonement and the doctrines which proceed from it.

(1) Concerning the fact. This, whether men receive it or refuse it, will remain unaltered and unalterable for all time and all eternity. Theories concerning it may come and go; ideas and systems may establish themselves then fade away; but the fact of the atonement must forever remain. To it nothing can be added and from it nothing can be subtracted. In its unchanging nature it stands eternally an accomplished deed which no power in earth or hell can either revise or revoke.

(2) Concerning the presentation of the fact. While the fact is unchanging, the doctrinal expression explaining the fact has varied according to the peculiar viewpoint of the person by whom it has been presented. Our concern in these studies is to acquaint ourselves with that varied expression, and then, on an intelligent scriptural basis, to become assured of a settled conviction for ourselves. In order to do this, a fourfold consideration will be necessary.

We must first consider the historical approach: the world aspect and then the scriptural aspect. We must then view the historical deed; some explanation will be needed for the awful fact of Calvary. We must go on to trace the historical development. Great minds have given themselves to the consideration of this amazing fact and much contention has arisen over it. We want a clear statement based on the definite teaching of the Word of God. Finally, we must formulate intelligently a theory for ourselves.


1. The World Aspect

This has been called by some theologians "the negative preparation," or the preparation for Christ in the history of the heathen world.

Discussing this, Dr. A. H. Strong raises the question: "Why could not Eve have become the mother of the chosen seed? and why was not the cross set up at the gates of Eden?" To which, of course, he gives the obvious reply: "A preparation was needful." That preparation was twofold in its character. It concerned world trends and, moreover, it concerned a chosen people who must be educated, disciplined, and prepared.

As we look at world trends through the successive centuries it becomes immediately evident that in and through them an all-wise Mind and a superintending Providence has been definitely at work. Paul the Apostle seems to have recognized that the coming of Jesus was according to divine schedule when he wrote "For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly" (Rom. 5:6). "But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son" (Gal. 4:4).

"In due time"; in "the fulness of time"! To be more literal, When the time was fully due. So literal was this due time that, when Jesus came, some were sufficiently aware of it to be waiting to receive Him (Luke 2:24-38); although, strangely enough, the religious leaders of that day were so spiritually blind that when questioned about the fact they glibly quoted prophecy to prove it, yet allowed the greatest event in human history to happen on their very doorstep without their awareness of it. (Matt. 2:4-6.)

It would be correct to say that, just as we go to the railroad station to meet an arriving traveler knowing when the train is scheduled to come in, so these watching saints knew the divine schedule and expected the Royal Passenger to arrive; and as all the world now knows, He came.

This preparation is marked from the beginning, and to those whose eyes have been divinely illumined it soon becomes apparent that even heathenism itself, with its crudities and cruelties, is an unsatisfied cry for something consciously needed, yet tragically undiscerned.

a. These preparatory trends are seen in the philosophies and religions of the pagan world. While it is true that until Christ came the world was without the Sun of Righteousness, it is also true that before His coming there were light rays -- faint it is true, but light rays nonetheless, which by their ineffectiveness pointed to the need of Him.

Socrates, Plato, and others of their kind were not without some rays of light -- certainly not salvation light, but nonetheless light of its kind. Confucius, Buddha, Zoroaster, and their fraternity taught the highest they knew, and it would be folly to assume that in the teachings of these men the world found no benefit; yet how poor it really was, and the best they had to offer was by its very incompleteness the pointer to something -- had we not better say Someone? -- yet to come.

b. These trends are further seen in the events in the world at large. Here the trends of preparation became so clear that it would seem that none but those willfully blind could fail to see them.

(1) The language trend. By reason of the military conquests of Alexander, the Greek language began to be spoken everywhere; this provided a vehicle for the gospel so that all might hear and understand the message.

(2) The social and political trends. Through the rise of the Roman Empire, social order and political unity began to be established; thus all lands now became accessible.

(3) The religious trend. By reason of the dispersion of the Jews, synagogues became established everywhere; this now provided a starting point for preaching for the Christian missionaries of Jewish nationality who came bearing the message of the Cross.

There were many years of bloodshed; then came an era of peace. The way was now prepared in the world at large for the coming of Christ and for the publishing of the gospel message.


In order to comprehend intelligently the situation, this world aspect must be understood. Wider reading will pay good dividends here.


  1. Show why the letter I is so suggestive in the words sin, sacrifice, and Saviour.

  2. Show the difference between atonement for sin and salvation from sin.

  3. Show the advance preparation for the coming of Christ.



While in the world of pagan thought men were groping, and in the world at large events military, political, and religious were getting the world ready for Messiah's appearing, a Book was also in course of preparation, written in widely differing parts by various authors; not as the product of mental genius, but wrought out through the spiritual education of a selected people, and recorded by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost.

The subject of redemption is the grand, central theme of the Bible. In the Old Testament it is foreshadowed, while in the New Testament it is set forth as accomplished. Throughout the entire Book there is a perpetual blood stream, beginning with the blood of slaughtered beasts and culminating in outpoured life stream of a crucified Messiah. Even when exalted to the throne of God, the Lamb is seen as "having been newly slain," (Rev. 5:6, literal translation), while across the whole is indelibly written: Without shedding of blood is no remission.

Concerning redemption as seen in the Old Testament the teaching may be stated as twofold in its method:

a. It is seen in type and symbol. The first declaration and symbolic action concerning atonement came from Jehovah himself. Gen. 3:15,21.

There can be no doubt that the covering of the fallen pair was at the cost of the shedding of blood; thus we find the seed germs of this great doctrine of blood atonement at the very outset of the Sacred Book.

The idea of access to God through blood shedding is seen in the worship of the patriarchs. Beginning with Abel, we find God approached through the offering of the firstling of the flock. Gen. 4:4. Passing on to Noah, we find him building an altar as the first act on leaving the ark. Gen. 8:20. The fact of the altar is familiar in the life of Abraham. Gen. 12:7, 8; 13:4, 18; 22:9. Jacob had his altar. Gen. 35:1, 3, 7. Moses approached God in this manner. Exod. 17:15. Job knew the value of sacrifice. Job 1:5.

Turn where you will in the Old Testament scriptures, this outstanding fact is seen: Wherever there is a soul in contact with God, the altar is not far to seek. This thought is intensified in the sacrifices under the ceremonial law. For an intelligent understanding here, a study should be made of the Book of Leviticus with its offerings and feasts, compared with the Epistle to the Hebrews.

b. It is further developed in the great prophetic utterances. These are far more numerous than we can here record. Somewhere we have seen it stated that the Old Testament contains 333 specific and striking pictures of the death of Christ. Among many other scripture references the following are good samples: Psalms 22; Isaiah 53; Dan. 9:26; Zech. 13:1, 6-7. These should be carefully read and other similar passages sought.


The following thought will repay careful consideration: Were the Old Testament and its

times an essential background for the fact of Christ's Calvary redemption? If so, why? If not, why


  1. The subject of redemption is the grand central theme of the Bible. Discuss this.

  2. Show redemption as seen in the Old Testament in type and symbol.

  3. Show redemption as set forth in prophetic utterance.



As we turn to the pages of the New Testament the Central Figure is the human form of the Son of God. There the Word is made flesh and is seen to dwell among men. His life is unique and His death amazing. These are interpreted for us by those who knew and followed Him.

As to His life, little need be said about it. Upon it, in audible tones, the Father pronounced His pleasure, while with it His bitterest enemies could find no fault. It was this flawless life that gave itself up to death, so that by reason of His dying men might live.

In considering this historical fact two main thoughts are to be noted, namely, Christ's own emphasis concerning His Calvary death, and further, the emphasis of those who knew Him.

1. The Emphasis Of Our Lord Himself

It has been noted by Bible scholars that during the early part of His ministry our Lord was strangely silent about the great purpose for which He came. As has so often been pointed out, our first New Testament portraiture, Matthew's Gospel, naturally divides itself with this simple expression: "From that time." It occurs twice, the first time having to do with service and the second with suffering. "From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent" (Matt. 4:17). "From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer" (Matt. 16:21). See also Mark 8:31.

From that second period onward, the Cross is never far from view, as a glance at the remaining chapters will show. In conversation with His disciples at the foot of the Transfiguration Mount, He exclaimed, "Likewise shall also the Son of man suffer" (Matt. 17:12; see also Mark 9:12). "While they abode in Galilee," He again foretold His death, saying, "The Son of man shall be betrayed into the hands of men: and they shall kill him" (Matt. 17:22-23; see also Mark 9:31). While going up to Jerusalem, He took His disciples apart and said, "Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be betrayed . . . and they shall condemn him to death" (Matt. 20:17-19; see also Luke 18:31-34). Addressing His disciples after the request had been made by the wife of Zebedee for a place of prominence for her sons, Jesus said, "The Son of man came . . . to give his life a ransom" (Matt. 20:28). While partaking with His disciples of that Last Supper, He said, concerning the cup which He gave them to drink, "This is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins" (Matt. 26:28). Addressing the Pharisees, He said, "I lay down my life for the sheep.... I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself" (John 10:15-18). Hanging upon the Cross, He cried, "It is finished"; then bowing His head, "He sent away His spirit" (John 19:30 -- literal translation).

Here then are eight definite statements from which, when placed together, we may gather three thoughts.

a. In the consciousness of Jesus, there was no doubt about both the fact and nature of His approaching death. It is very evident that the Cross did not surprise Him. With a definite tread He marched toward it, knowing full well what His enemies, energized by the powers of darkness, would ultimately do.

b. In His approach to that death, there is no doubt as to His personal freedom in facing it. In the fullest sense His life was not taken from Him. He gave it, and with the same freedom He took it again.

This could not be said of any other. Many have willingly placed themselves in jeopardy and allowed their lives to be taken, but no one, other than He has had either power or authority to dismiss his spirit at will. Our Lord Jesus first assumed this life, then laid it down, then took it again, each time at His own will and pleasure.

c. In so freely giving His life, a distinct purpose is declared: (1) His death was for the benefit of others. "For many." Matt. 20:28; 26:28. The many here are evidently the whosoever of John 3:16. (2) That benefit is described as: "A ransom." Matt. 20:28. "For the remission of sins." Matt. 26:28.

2. The Emphasis Of Those Who Knew Him

The angels knew Him -- and before His advent in Bethlehem's manger, brought to Joseph this redemption message: "Thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins" (Matt. 1:21).

John the Baptist knew Him -- and proclaimed His identity and atoning purpose to the assembled crowds. "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world" (John 1:29).

The apostles knew Him -- and after His death, resurrection, and ascension had time for mature reflection upon these facts. Without hesitation they made their appraisal and declared their conviction.

Paul, although not among the first disciple band, met Him in His risen capacity -- and under the teaching of the Holy Spirit learned the great facts of redemption truth. Quickly he saw in the Calvary tragedy the fulfillment of all his Jewish hopes, and with amazing spiritual insight related the one to the other.

Among other scripture passages the following are apostolic statements concerning the redemption fact: Acts 4:10-12; 5:30, 31; 20:28; Rom. 3:25-26; 5:6-11; 6:1-10; 8:3, 32; I Cor. 1:22- 24; 6:20; 15:3; II Cor. 5:14-15, 18, 21; Gal. 1:4; 2:20; 3:1, 13-14; 4:4-5; 6:14; Eph. 1:7; 2:13-16; 5:2, 25-27; Phil. 2:8; Col. 1:20-22; 2:14-15; I Tim. 2:5-6; II Tim. 1:9-10; Titus 2:14; Heb. 1:3; 2:9-17; 9:12-14, 24-28; 10:10, 12, 14, 19; 13:12; I Pet. 1:11, 18-20; 2:24; 3:18; I John 1:7-9; 2:2; 3:16; 4:9- 10; Rev. 1:5; 5:6, 9, 12; 13:8.

a. In these scriptures various descriptive terms are employed.

(1) Atonement. This word, while so familiar in our evangelical phraseology, is more particularly an Old Testament expression, and is found in the New Testament only once (Rom. 5:11). Even there the Revised Version has changed the rendering, replacing it with the word reconciliation, which, as we shall see, is found several times elsewhere. The root idea in the Hebrew is literally "to cover." See Exod. 30:10; Ps. 32:1. By way of explanation, it has been common among Bible teachers to split up the word into At-one-ment, indicating the thought of two estranged parties brought together and made one by the interposition of a third. The death of Jesus does that.

(2) Reconciliation. This is a familiar New Testament word; it is found in Rom. 5:10; 11:15; I Cor. 7:11; II Cor. 5:11-21. It is concerned with those who are enemies, and consequently under displeasure. The reconciliation is made by the death of God's Son; acceptance into divine favor and assurance of salvation are on this ground alone.

(3) Propitiation. See Rom. 3:25; I John 2:2; 4:10. This same word is also translated merciful (Luke 18:13); mercy seat (Heb. 9:5). To be propitious is to be disposed to favor or to forgive. To propitiate is to conciliate or appease. The propitiation is the act of appeasing and conciliating. Here Christ is seen as providing in the fact of His death a meeting place between man and God.

(4) Redemption. The thought suggested here is to buy back; to ransom or liberate from slavery, captivity, or death by the payment of a price. The word ransom is also used. Those redeemed are declared to have been sold under sin (Gal. 3:10). They are redeemed or ransomed by the price of blood (Gal. 3:13; I Tim. 2:6; Titus 2:14; I Pet. 1:18).

(5) Substitution. This is not an actual Bible word, yet it is a scriptural idea, the thought content being there. The word has been coined within the Church to express the Bible idea. See such passages as Isa. 53:5-12; Rom. 5:6-8; I Pet. 2:24; 3:18. b. From these scriptures four outstanding facts may be clearly summarized.

(1) The central fact of redemption is the death of Christ. His birth, life, example, and teaching were all contributory to it, but the fact central to all else is His atoning death as crucified Redeemer.

(2) That death is distinctive in its characteristics. It is voluntary: He died of His own volition and choice. It is expiatory: He died as a Propitiation for sin. It is vicarious: He died as the substitutionary Sacrifice in the place of others.

(3) The beneficiaries of this redemptive death are variously but definitely described. It is for "the world"; for "many"; for "that which is lost"; for "the church."

(4) The results of this redemption are clearly stated. Sin is seen to be dealt with in all its aspects and implications.


The conception of the Cross in the thinking of Jesus as suggested in the Gospel narratives will form a theme well worth the student's careful thought.


  1. Name the Central Figure of the New Testament.

  2. Show our Lord's own emphasis concerning His death.

  3. What was the emphasis concerning the death of Jesus in the testimonies of those who knew Him?



As we take up this section of our study we shall do well to remember that it is not our view of the atonement, however correct it may be, that saves us. We are saved only through our acceptance of, and faith in, the atoning fact.

It is impossible, however, for any soul to think deeply upon this great theme without soon forming some mental concept as to the how of redemption.

The doctrine of Christ's atoning work is far from being a ready-made garment fitted upon the Church. Around it many wordy battles have been fought, as we shall discover as we continue our study.

We shall consider this from a fourfold angle: first, the atonement in the patristic writings; second, the atonement in the pre-Reformation period; third, the atonement in the Reformation theology; finally, the atonement in post-Reformation teaching. These we shall take up in their respective order.

1. The Patristic Writings

By the patristic writings, we mean, of course, the writings of the early fathers of the Church.

In our approach to this section we find an immediate difficulty in the fact that these men do not seem to have made the same serious attempt to construct theories of the atonement as is to be found at a later period.

Viewing the death of Christ as the fulfillment of prophecy, especially such portions as the fifty-third chapter of the prophecy of Isaiah, and realizing the tremendous liberation resulting from faith in Christ as based upon the truth discovered therein, some broad and general statements were made, which when more carefully considered by later thinkers could not honestly be retained without some modification. Doubtless various reasons could be assigned for this; chief among them might be their close proximity to the fact, and the personal cost of embracing it.

Those early days, however, were not without their definite formulation of atonement teaching, which has become known as the Ransom theory. Its origin is uncertain, there being no agreement as to the time when, the place where, or the person by whom it was formulated. Some have credited it to Irenaeus in the second century. It is said to have had a strong representative in Origen in the third century. Augustine taught it in the fourth and fifth centuries. During the latter part of the fourth century there were three men who have become known in history as constituting what was known as the Cappadocian school of theology, namely, Gregory of Nazianzuz, Gregory of Nyssa, and Basil. The second of these is said to have been the outstanding theologian of the three; he is also declared to have strongly advocated this theory, so much so that some have not hesitated to call it "the Gregorian doctrine." In various forms it seems to have held its ground until the challenge of Anselm in the eleventh century, and even in the twelfth century it was championed by Bernard of Clairvaux.

a. The Ransom Theory seems to have been expressed in a number of forms.

(1) The first form of the theory. This has come down to us as a sort of spiritualization of the old principles of the rights of war, according to which those conquered in battle become the slaves of the conqueror. Satan conquered man, say these teachers, thus becoming the rightful owner of both Adam and his posterity. During the period of the later Roman Empire this portraiture would be perfectly intelligible to slaves and owners alike.

That He might deliver man from captivity, Christ is seen as offering himself as a Ransom to Satan. This Ransom, Satan is said to have accepted and to have renounced his right to his captives. Christ, however, tricked Satan, broke the bonds of death, and came out, having made His death a sort of bait by which Satan was trapped. Even in the twelfth century Peter Lombard, one of the most famous among the schoolmen, is quoted as saying, "What did the Redeemer do to our captor? He held out to him His cross as a mousetrap; in it He set as a bait His own blood." To us, such a statement is ridiculous and crude in the extreme, yet these men in sincerity of heart seemed to revel in the thought of it. Some, however, began to see the dawning of clearer light.

(2) The second form of the theory. With more careful thought some of the crudities of this doctrine began to disappear. Its second statement does not see the death of Christ as a ransom paid to Satan, but rather sees Christ as the Conqueror of Satan. Satan conquered and enslaved mankind through the fall of the first man; God in Christ became Man and, as the last Adam, conquered man's conqueror and procured freedom for the race.

(3) The third form of the theory. A slight difference is here seen in the statement that the right and power of Satan over man are found in the fact of sin. Christ became Man, and Satan brought about His death. In doing this he overreached himself and by the very act executed the deed which provided a ransom for the race.

Thus, in its varying forms, the Ransom Theory prevailed in the Church for a thousand years, and not without some apparent scriptural basis, as the following passages will show: Rom. 3:19; 7:14; Gal. 3:10 with Matt. 20:28; Gal. 3:13; I Tim. 2:6; Titus 2:14; I Pet. 1:18-19.

There are some points of emphasis, however, which do not seem to have been clarified. It is true that men were Satan's captives and under his dominion. There is no doubt that Christ gave himself a Ransom, and because of that ransom price men may go free. It does not follow, however, that the ransom was paid by Christ to Satan, or that Satan held any just claims over the souls of men. The Scriptures rather teach: (a) Man, by reason of his transgression, in yielding to Satan has become subject to the penalty of divine law. (b) Satan, in his malice, is permitted by God to inflict that penalty. (c) Christ, by His righteous life and Calvary death, has satisfied the law which man has broken, and this He has done, not for himself, but for His people; therefore, all who are truly His share in the ransom results.


This period of Church history and doctrinal development will provide the student with basic ideas of which he will do well to take the fullest advantage. Make sure that you clearly understand the thought trends thus far.


  1. What do we mean when we speak of the patristic writings?

  2. The early fathers do not seem to have made any serious attempt to construct theories of the atonement. Are there any reasons to be suggested?

  3. Trace the three forms of the Ransom theory.

  4. What outstanding names are associated with this theory?



After ten long centuries we find evidences of a change of expression concerning this vital theme of atonement. In the eleventh century Anselm was born, and this event was followed, forty-six years later, by the birth of Abelard. Both these men felt the necessity of a restatement of the doctrine of atonement, and each, from his own respective angle, formulated his view. These views are best evaluated, not as finished products for us today, but as chronological helps in the formulation of a settled doctrine of the atonement which will be clear in its thought and comprehensive in its content.

a. The Satisfaction Theory -- atonement in terms of the law court.

This theory, first advocated by Anselm, has been called by some the Commercial Theory. Attacking the earlier theory with its thought of ransom, Anselm insisted that the answer to the difficulty there met was to be found, not in the devil, but in the nature of God. His theory, in brief, may be stated thus:

God is majestic, righteous, and holy. It is against Him that man has sinned; and for this violation of the divine honor, justice demands an adequate redress. Man's rebellion against God is an infinite sin. Justice demands an infinite penalty. That justice must be satisfied -- and the demanded satisfaction is not to be regarded as a vindictive passion but as a righteous requirement which, of necessity, a just and holy God must make. The blow must fall somewhere, either on the condemned sinner or on an acceptable substitute.

Man, however, cannot meet this obligation. He is finite and the demand is infinite. Moreover he is sinful, and while each man finds it impossible to meet his obligation and atone for his own sin, the race in general cannot find an acceptable substitute worthy to stand in the place of the rest.

God cannot and must not surrender His honor by granting gratuitous forgiveness; it follows therefore that a compensatory service must be rendered by a mediator, and that mediator He must provide. For this reason "the Word was made flesh." "Christ died for our sins." Because He was divine, His death outweighed all that was owed by reason of human sin, and so the divine justice was satisfied. Christ offered to the Father something we could not pay; justice could not be satisfied with less -- and could not demand more.

Thus we have the thought of God satisfying God through the instrumentality of the creature who owed the debt: God the Father, the Embodiment of justice, inflexibly demanding payment of the penalty which the sin of Adam had incurred, for the whole race had sinned in him; God the Son, the Incarnation of love, voluntarily paying the debt which justice demanded. And so Anselm wove his theory, insisting that "God owed nothing to the devil except punishment . . . what was due from man was owed to God, not to the devil." The price was infinite -- but God paid it. Did Anselm have any scriptural ground for such a theory? See such passages as Isa. 53:5-12; Rom. 5:6-8; I Pet. 2:24; 3: 18.

b. The Moral Influence Theory -- atonement in terms of philosophic thought.

Refusing the Ransom Theory, and not satisfied with Anselm's Theory of Satisfaction, Abelard began to work out ideas of his own. Abelard might be designated the rationalistic theologian of his day. Anselm had located the need for the atonement in the nature of God, but Abelard found it in the nature of man. Rejecting the idea of expiation or satisfaction of justice by vicarious suffering, he attributed the efficacy of Christ's work to the moral effect produced on the hearts of men by His character, His life and teaching, and the fact and manner of His death.

Christ is seen as dying on the Cross as an exhibition of divine love and grace which is to draw the souls of men away from the desire of sinning. He brings men to salvation and effects their reconciliation to God by kindling within their cold hearts a responsive love. He took man's nature so that, by His example even unto death, He might draw us to himself.

More concisely stated, the main points of Abelard's theory may be set forth as follows: (1) In the nature of God there can be no such thing as vindictive justice. (2) The one great principle determining His provisions for human redemption is His unchanging benevolence. (3) The sole object of the life and death of Jesus was to show God's willingness to forgive the sinner and to subdue his rebellious heart by producing a moral effect upon his nature.


The two theories here stated have been only briefly sketched. Seek further information concerning Anselm and Abelard and their respective teachings. Be able to state each theory and to discuss it. How far is it true? Where, if any, is the error? Did Abelard have scriptural grounds for his new emphasis? Is it possible that he was stressing a hitherto neglected side of redemption truth? Yet may it not be that within this beautiful thought of the love of God as so ably expressed by his scholarly mind there is the seed of error which later will grow, bringing trouble within the Church? Do the Socinianism of the sixteenth century and the Unitarianism of later years seem to supply this answer?


  1. What two atonement theories characterized the pre-Reformation period?

  2. What two men are closely associated with those theories?

  3. State as clearly and concisely as possible each of the two theories.

  4. What is your opinion of these theories?



a. The Protestant Penal Theory.

Abelard's doctrine of the moral influence of the Cross was far from satisfactory to the reformers. Added to this was the iniquitous Roman system of multiplied penances and sale of pardons which had stung these men into a desperate radicalism. To them, salvation, being divinely wrought, must be free; and being free, must be offered without thought of merit to the most undeserving.

The recognized leader of the Reformation was the monk Martin Luther, but its outstanding theologian was John Calvin. He it is to whom we must look for the Reformation emphasis of the atonement. It would not be correct, however, to say that Calvin gave us a theory. He has been described as "less an original thinker than an organizer of existing teaching."

Reaching back into the Church's past, he contacted Anselm for atonement teaching; then going back still further, he laid hold of Augustine for the doctrine of divine sovereignty. Both of these he restored and embellished. We say embellished because it would seem that in his desire to be emphatic his emphasis, especially in the Augustinian doctrine, became extreme.

While, however, the basis of Calvin's atonement teaching was Anselm's Satisfaction Theory, the nature of that satisfaction was now differently presented. Both theories agree in presenting the work of Christ as one of vicarious obedience. Anselm, however, had no thought of vicarious punishment. His only alternatives were whether man should suffer endless punishment or whether he should render, in Christ, some deed of satisfaction.

With Anselm, the thought stressed was that of God's insulted honor which demanded an adequate redress, but the emphasis of Calvin was that of the wrath of a just and righteous Judge who, although He loves men, so hates their sin that He can extend forgiveness only as the claims of moral law are fully satisfied. This satisfaction must be either the punishment of the sinner or the equal punishment of his substitute. In other words, the sinner must die for his transgression, being banished to eternal hell, or else Christ, who was elected to stand in man's place, must receive the exact parallel of his merited punishment, including the wrath of God, the pains of death, and the woes of hell.

With Calvin also was revived the question as to the extent of the atonement. For whom did Jesus die? What ground, exactly, did His sufferings cover? Hence what we now know as the Calvinistic doctrine of particular redemption, expressed in the teaching of predestination and the final perseverance of the saints.


If the student is to be well equipped it will be necessary to seek firsthand information on the teaching of Calvin, and to make a personal evaluation of what he taught. Just what did he teach? How far was he right? Where did he go wrong? The student should be prepared to state these things and to discuss them. Calvin's Institutes should be studied; then Watson's Institutes and Fletcher's Checks to Antinomianism should be taken up as a balancing factor.


  1. What were the relative positions of Luther and Calvin in regard to the Reformation?

  2. In what way was Calvin's teaching related to that of Anselm?

  3. Show why the reformers rejected the teaching of Abelard.

  4. How did Calvin relate himself to Augustine?



While Calvinism was seeking to establish itself, another figure appeared in the theological arena in the person of Jacob Arminius, also known as Jacob Harmensen (1560-1609). He was professor at the University of Leyden in Holland, and was a younger contemporary of Hugo Grotius, or Hing Van Groot (1583-1645), a Dutch jurist.

The extravagances of Calvinism, especially with regard to the doctrine of predestination, had created a distinct reaction, and, led by Arminius, a new party appeared now known to history as the Remonstrants. What Calvin was to the Reformation, Grotius became to the Remonstrance.

a. The Governmental Theory -- atonement in terms of moral government.

In his theory of atonement Grotius saw the difficulty to be met as lying in the constitution of the universe. God, he argued, is a moral Ruler, and sin is both an act and a state of rebellion against all the interests of His government, which, at all costs, He must protect. In the cross of Christ, therefore, He shows both His hatred of sin and His love for the sinner, thus making it possible to maintain justice while offering pardon. The theory is a sort of middle position between the viewpoint of Abelard and that of Anselm. Grotius was a jurist, and his theory was naturally stated from the legalistic point of view. It is sometimes called the Legalistic Theory.

One writer has summarized the doctrinal position of those early days after this fashion: Among jurists it has been customary to acknowledge three theories of punishment, namely, the retributive, the reformatory, and the deterrent. Of these in theology, Anselm is regarded as representing the first, Abelard the second, and Grotius the third.

The main elements of the teaching of Grotius have been stated somewhat as follows:

(1) God is a moral Governor. To regard Him merely as an offended Party, a Creditor, or even a Master, would not be sufficient. Anselm saw God as an offended Party whose honor must be vindicated. Calvin saw Him as an inexorable Avenger who must punish men for their infraction of His law. Grotius differed from both these, conceiving God as the supreme moral Ruler who must maintain the dignity and authority of government.

(2) As moral Governor, He must act with a view to the best interests of those under His authority. The purpose of punishment is the prevention of crime, the preservation of order, and the best interests of the community. A creditor may remit a debt at his pleasure; a master may punish as he sees fit; but a ruler may not act according to his feelings -- he must consider all the interests of his realm.

(3) As a good Governor, God must therefore deal with sin. He cannot allow it to be committed with impunity. He cannot pardon the sins of men without some adequate expression of His displeasure and His determination to punish them.

That was the design of the sufferings and death of Christ. God punished sin in Him as our example. This example was all the more impressive because of the dignity of Christ's person. Therefore, in view of His death, God can now, consistently with the best interests of His government, remit the penalty of the law in the case of a penitent believing soul.

Christ's death is the equivalent of our punishment in the sense that by it the dignity of God's moral government is as effectively proclaimed and vindicated as it would have been by our actual punishment. It is the authority of the divine government asserted and displayed.

The punishment need not be imposed because of personal demerit in the sufferer; He may suffer vicariously.

The essence of the atonement therefore is this: The suffering of Christ is an exhibition of God's displeasure against sin. Sin deserves to be punished and the impenitent cannot escape the penalty due to their offenses. The Cross is God's symbol of His hatred of sin, and the sufferings of Jesus are a penal example whereby God testified of His own hatred of it to deter and deliver us from it.

b. The Wesleyan emphasis: Grotius popularized by Wesley.

About fifty years after the death of Grotius, John Wesley was born, and it has been in him that the Arminian doctrine has found its most popular exponent. In his numerous writings, comprising mainly his Sermons, Journal, Letters, and Notes on the New Testament, valuable material is to be found.

It would hardly be correct, however, to say that anywhere Wesley formally states his doctrine of the atonement. He writes on Arminianism in general, and does not hesitate to identify himself with the Arminian doctrine. It is plain, however, that in matters of general theology he regards himself as receiving rather than introducing a system of doctrine, his special emphasis being the witness of the Spirit within the believer and the second work of grace.

Wesley did not write a formal theology. Adam Clarke, his younger contemporary, has left us a comparatively small volume entitled Christian Theology, but even this was not written by him in its present form, the material having been selected from his various writings and published in 1860. Next in order would be Watson's Theological Institutes, written by Richard Watson and published in 1823. Both of these books echo Wesley's thought and are distinctly Arminian. Watson, whose work is of a far more extended nature than Clarke's, not only states the Arminian soteriological position but quite frequently strengthens his emphasis by naming Grotius as his authority.

The teaching of Wesley as reflected by his own writings, with those of his contemporaries and his early followers, is summarized in this simple statement:

On the great question relative to the personal character of Christ, which has divided the Christian world into Trinitarians and Unitarians, we have uniformly maintained what is called Orthodox ground. We are not Sabellians, holding a mere nominal Trinity, nor are we Arians, giving Christ a high character and talking well of the atonement, but denying his godship. Neither are we Socinians, or Humanitarians, but we strictly adhere to the ancient doctrine of the Trinity, attributing to Christ personalty and all the attributes of the godhead, mysteriously blended with those of manhood, and to the Holy Spirit the attributes that belong to the Father. And we do this not because we see the philosophy of such a Trinity in the divine unity, but because the Scriptures attribute the proper titles, attributes, and works of God, to the Son and the Spirit, as well as to the Father.... We are, therefore, prepared to recognize the mission of Christ in its proper character. Man, having sinned and incurred the penalty of the law, must have been cut off, but for the institution of an atonement, by which God could be just, and yet the justifier of the ungodly. One object of Christ's mission was therefore, to suffer in man's stead, that he might magnify the law, and make it honorable, by so far enduring its penalty as to preserve the race, and assure man that the law is not to be broken with impunity. Another object was, to endow him with grace and strength to overcome his propensities, and obey God, and finally to bring him to everlasting life in heaven.

To have pardoned him without the formality of such an atonement would not justly have represented God's abhorrence of sin, or his regard for his law. Nor would it have impressed men with suitable notions of the divine government, of their obligations to avoid sin, or the danger of committing it. Hence, we consider our lives, our privileges, our hopes, and our enjoyments, among the benefits of the atonement, and look to God through Christ for all that we desire. -"Compendium of Methodism."

c. What is our belief today?

Since Wesley's day there have been many changes. Numerous attempts have been made at doctrinal restatement, and there have not been lacking those who in the name of Christian scholarship have sought to discredit what they have scornfully termed the outworn theories of a slaughterhouse religion. Men and devils have combined their scholarly ability and hellish ingenuity to get rid of the Calvary death of Jesus as a sacrifice for sin. But as long as the Bible stands and human sin calls for a remedy, there can be no other interpretation of the Calvary incident than the Cross as "the power of God, and the wisdom of God" (I Cor. 1:24).

When all men's words have been spun, and all their theories evolved, the atoning work of Christ will be found to be far more comprehensive than any human explanation of it.

Do they designate it an act of self-sacrifice giving to man a perfect example of obedience unto death? We heartily agree, knowing that it is written: "Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that we should follow his steps" (I Pet. 2:21). Do they see in it a manifestation of God's love for a needy world? We have no fault to find, for it is written: "God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son" (John 3:16). Do they comprehend it as a ransom price to liberate the captive soul? We raise no objection, for our Lord himself declared: "The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many" (Matt. 20:28). Do they claim that in offering himself to God He satisfied the demand of divine justice? We stand in awe with them beside the Cross as there we read: "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins" (I John 4:10). Do they insist that by His dying Jesus exercised upon men that great principle of redemptive love, and by it sought to melt their hearts? We rejoice with them as we repeat, "The love of Christ constraineth us" (II Cor. 5:14).

But when they began to emphasize one phase only and with modernistic subtilty use it to the discounting of these other great and glorious aspects of redemption truth, we stand bolt upright and rebel. We adhere to the simple statement which our Manual sets forth, and on it rest for our eternal salvation:

We believe that Jesus Christ, by His sufferings, by the shedding of His own blood, and by His meritorious death on the cross, made a full atonement for all human sin, and that this atonement is the only ground of salvation, and that it is sufficient for every individual of Adam's race.


Make a clear distinction in your own thinking between the teachings of Calvin and of Grotius. If possible, gather sufficient material to enable you to present and discuss this intelligently.


  1. Who was Arminius?

  2. What was it that created the reaction led by Arminius?

  3. What new party came into being as the result of this?

  4. State the Governmental Theory.

  5. How did Wesley relate himself to Grotius?