The Grotian Theory Of The Atonement -- By: Leonard Swain

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 009:34 (Apr 1852)
Article: The Grotian Theory Of The Atonement
Author: Leonard Swain


The Grotian Theory Of The Atonement

Rev. Leonard Swain

[The work from which the following extract is taken, is entitled: Die christliche Lehre von der Versöhnung; in ihrer geschichtlichen Entwickelung von der älteste Zeit bis auf die neueste.]

It was a natural and almost necessary result, that two such opposite views as that of Socinus on the one hand, and that of the church on the other, should call forth a third one of intermediate character. And in this remark is indicated the place which Hugo Grotius and his well known treatise holds in the history of our doctrine; since, although it was his design in taking ground against the Socinian view, merely to defend the satisfaction-theory which was held by the church,1 the actual result was, that, instead of defending that theory, he substituted an entirely different one in its place.

The fundamental error of the Socinian view was found by Grotius to be this: that Socinus regarded God in the work of redemption as holding the place merely of a creditor, or master, whose simple will was a sufficient discharge from the existing obligation.2 But as we have in the subject before us to deal with punishment and the remission of punishment, God cannot be looked upon as a creditor, or an injured party, since the act of inflicting punishment does not belong to an injured party as such. The right to punish is not one of the rights of an absolute master or of a creditor, these being merely personal in their character; it is the right of a ruler only. Hence God must be considered as a ruler, and the right to punish belongs to the ruler as such, since it exists not for the punisher’s sake but for the sake of the commonwealth, to maintain its order and to promote the

public good.3 The act of atonement itself is defined in general as a judicial act, in accordance with which, one person is punished in order that another may be freed from punishment, or as an act of dispensation, by which the binding force of an existing law is suspended in respect to certain persons or things. The first question to be asked, therefore, is, whether such a dispensation or relaxing is possible in respect to the law of punishment. Grotius does not hesitate to answer this question in the affirmative, on the ground that all positive laws are relaxable. The threat of punishment in Gen. 2:17, contains in itself, therefore, the implied right to dispense with the infliction of that punishment, and that too without supposing any essential change in God himself, since a law in relation to God and the divine w...

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