The Atonement And The Time-Spirit -- By: Stephen G. Barnes

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 066:263 (Jul 1909)
Article: The Atonement And The Time-Spirit
Author: Stephen G. Barnes

The Atonement And The Time-Spirit

Reverend Stephen G. Barnes

Who can tell the spirit of his time? It is a wonderfully complex thing, with many survivals from the past and many anticipations of the future. There are countless currents, flowing in all directions; and no one man is competent to measure and estimate them all. Yet every man must do his best to understand himself and his own age; how else can he with any intelligence serve his generation according to the will of God? This article is simply the attempt of the writer to declare what he sees, and he has taken the subject of the Atonement because as a central and dominant doctrine it furnishes an admirable touchstone — there is none better.

We know things by contrast, and we discover the characteristics of our own age by seeing how it differs from preceding times. How do we differ from our grandfathers and their teachers? The Christian thinker is pledged to optimism, for he believes that the leaven is leavening the whole lump. Speaking optimistically, we may describe the movement of these years as one towards more truth and more grace. Our forefathers made much of justification, of a righteousness imputed to us. Our age demands something more genuine than this appears to us; it is content to have nothing short of actual righteousness, actually received from Christ. We no longer think of the Atonement as chiefly a method of forgiveness: with us it stands rather for a result of spiritual

harmony with God. Again, our forefathers made much of God’s justice, to which love played quite a secondary part; they were largely satisfied with a limited atonement; their definition of a “fair chance “in probation seems something short of fair to us. Our God is surely much more gracious than theirs, one who overcomes evil with good, by love, to an extent far beyond the ordinary ken of three generations ago.

But just where are we now? and where are we going? and where ought, we to be going? One method of answering these questions would be the discussion of specific theories of the Atonement, the collation of authorities, the way of the theological professor. Another method is that of personal experience and human intercourse, the way of the pastor. The latter is the present writer’s point of view. If he judges aright his brethren in the ministry, and the Christian laymen who give serious thought to the problem of salvation, the answer of these questions is not to be found so much in this or that explanation of the Atonement, not so much in definite intellectual agreements, as in a certain practical, teachable, brotherly spirit which is coming to general self-consciousness in our day. The reader of these pages will probably not be able to...

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