The Glory of the Cross (2) -- By: Pieter DeVries

Journal: Puritan Reformed Journal
Volume: PRJ 03:2 (Jul 2011)
Article: The Glory of the Cross (2)
Author: Pieter DeVries

The Glory of the Cross (2)

Pieter DeVries

In the last issue, Dr. DeVries considered the doctrine of the atonement in the Scriptures. In this article, he looks at the doctrine of atonement as developed in church history.

The Early Church

Whenever the New Testament addresses the atonement, God is identified as its subject. The initiative for the atonement proceeded from God; He reconciles men with Himself, and not vice-versa. He gave His Son as a propitiation for sin. Thus humanity is confronted with the imperative to embrace, by faith, the atoning sacrifice of Christ, so that we may truly enjoy the friendship of God. This does not mean, however, that we bring about such atonement. The Bible teaches us that this is neither possible nor required. It is precisely for that reason that God, in His one-sided love, sent His Son.

What is the essential meaning of the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ? What does it really mean for enemies to be reconciled with God through Christ’s blood? What exactly necessitates atoning? To answer these questions, we will first of all consider how Christ’s death on the cross has been analyzed during the course of church history. This does not mean that insights gleaned from church history ought to be viewed as normative; such insights need to be evaluated in light of Scripture. This is precisely what is meant by the Reformation principle, Sola Scriptura, that is, Scripture alone. We need to recognize, however, that we are not the first individuals to read and study the Scriptures. We may benefit from the insights regarding Scripture that have been formulated during the course of church history.

The Christian authors who date from the period immediately following the decease of the apostles are known as the apostolic fathers.

Clement of Rome was one of them, and around 96 A.D. he wrote his first letter to the congregation of Corinth. Here we read, “Moved by His love toward us, Jesus Christ shed His blood for us according to the will of God, giving His flesh for our flesh and His life for our life.”1 One generation later, the church father Irenaeus placed Adam and Christ in opposition to each other. His thinking regarding this is known as “recapitulation.” As the Head of the new humanity, Christ gathers together all things unto Himself. Irenaeus posited that Christ, as the Son of God, has become man in order to comprehend the development of man within Himself and thereby provide salvation for us, “so that what we have lost in Adam, namely the image and likeness of God, may be received again in Christ Jesus.”You must have a subscription and be logged in to read the entire article.
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