Theories Of Atonement -- By: John Morgan

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 035:137 (Jan 1878)
Article: Theories Of Atonement
Author: John Morgan

Theories Of Atonement

Prof. John Morgan

In order to a clearer insight into at least some parts of this great subject, Atonement, I propose to review some of the theories which have extensively prevailed in the church, or have been proposed by theologians. Whatever of error there may have been in these theories, the doctrine of the atonement effected by Christ has under them exerted a glorious and beneficent influence, has been the deliverance from sin and condemnation of innumerable souls; and the theories have, therefore, naturally been most precious and sacred in the view of the beneficiaries. It cannot be in the heart of any good man to treat such feelings with disrespect, or not to cherish a kindly interest in them. But these respectful and tender feelings should not stand in the way of an honest and thorough examination of the theories, and a frank expression of the views, favorable or unfavorable, to which such an examination may seem to lead us.

In the primitive church there was no formal theory of the atonement. There is no such theory exhibited in the Scriptures. In no theoretic way it is merely said that Christ is our propitiation; that God has set him forth as such; that he died for our sins; that he is our ransom; that the saints wash their robes and make them white in his blood as the Lamb of God. The Scriptures leave the facts to their own influence. So the primitive church received the atonement, and rejoiced in the Saviour “with joy unspeakable and full of glory.”

Christ’s Death a Ransom paid to the Devil

The first theory that obtained extensive recognition was, that man having become through his sins the lawful captive

of the devil, and he being unwilling to let him off without ransom, and a ransom most costly, Christ the Son of God consented to ransom man with his life; that the devil gladly accepted this, hoping to contrive to retain his influence over man’s heart; but that Christ outwitted the devil, by his death gaining a preponderating influence over the race.

This, I think, is the substance of the theory; but though for ages the theory of minds of the first order, no one believes in it now. It lies in the rubbish-heap of ancient nonsense. It is interesting to inquire how men, believing in such a theory, could work their moral nature under it.

1. It represented the deep guilt of man. He could not be the lawful captive of Satan unless he deserved to be so.

2. It taught that man is practically incompetent to save himself without a Redeemer.

3. It represented that God so loved the world as to give his only begotten Son to save it; and it presented also the g...

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