Dr. Bushnell’s Forgiveness And Law -- By: Daniel T. Fiske

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 032:125 (Jan 1875)
Article: Dr. Bushnell’s Forgiveness And Law
Author: Daniel T. Fiske


Dr. Bushnell’s Forgiveness And Law1

Rev. Daniel T. Fiske

This new volume on the atonement, from the pen of Dr. Bushnell, is due to “the unexpected arrival of fresh light,” which required him to make a large revision of the latter part of his former treatise, The Vicarious Sacrifice. It is characterized by the author’s well-known excellences and defects of style, and bears throughout his unmistakable image and superscription. It is valuable, if for nothing else, as a new testimony to the inadequacy of the “moral view” of the atonement which he has so ably advocated.

The central idea of the volume is developed in the first chapter, entitled, Forgiveness and Propitiation without Expiation. Here we find the principal modification which Dr. Bushnell has made of the doctrine of his Vicarious Sacrifice. Formerly he held that the atonement — including the whole work of Christ, his life and death — propitiated men only, not God. He now holds that it propitiated God as well as men. It did this, however, not by being vicarious punishment, satisfying justice, nor by being vicarious suffering, meeting an exigency of the divine government; but simply by moral reaction, or by the reflex influence of the sacrifice involved on the divine feelings. The analogon of this propitiation is found in human experience. Good men have certain moral resentments and indignations, awakened by the wrongs they suffer, which hinder them from forgiving, and which can be placated and overcome only by cost and sacrifice in behalf of the wrong-doer. “Human forgivenesses are possible to be consummated only by the help of some placation, or atonement, or cost-making.” “Some alterative must be taken by the man who will truly forgive, that has power to liquefy the indifferences, or assuage the stern, overloaded displeasures of his moral, and morally injured, morally revolted, nature” (p. 48). There is a like obstacle to the divine forgiveness, which must be overcome in like manner. God “is put in arms against wrong-doers, just as we are, by his moral disgusts, displeasures, abhorrences, indignations, revulsions, and what is more than all, by his offended holiness.” These antagonistic feelings are

placated by what God does in and through Christ to reclaim and save sinners. In propitiating them at great cost and sacrifice he is himself propitiated. Such is Dr. Bushnell’s new theory of the atonement. Among the objections to it which readily suggest themselves, are the following:

1. It is not a fact that human forgiveness is universally and necessarily conditioned upon self-sacrifice. In cases of private wrong good men often forgive the wrong-doe...

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