Daily Archives: November 14, 2013

Auguste Sabatier on the Atonement

The following is an exceedingly illuminating excerpt from Auguste Sabatier’s The Doctrine of the Atonement And its Historical Evolution (NY:  G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904) pp. 46-48.  These paragraphs cast unusual light on the question of what it means to be dead “in Christ,” although one need not agree in every detail or word choice.  His perspective on Christ’s bearing the penalty of sin is worthy of note, even for those of us who hold the premial view.  But note especially how he integrates the resurrection of Christ into his treatment!  Sabatier is a worthy conversation partner from a century ago.

[T]he death on Calvary, caused by the sin of all, is repeated in the soul of the sinner, by faith, on account of his own sin. Such is the profound manner in which Paul understood the repentance to which the prophets and Jesus promised the forgiveness of sins. Death with Christ, is, for the individual sinner, the way He expiates his sin; that is to say, the way He bears the penalty and consequently is absolved. The great benefit of Christ to sinful men, who repent and believe, is not therefore, as in Anselm, that He exempts them by dying in their stead, but, on the contrary, that He enables them to die with Him and personally to bear in Him the penalty of their sin. The law which punishes sin by death has therefore produced for them its full effect; the law has exercised its right to the very utmost, but by so doing has become of none effect, and the sentence of condemnation renders itself void, those who came under it escaping through death, and the law itself ceasing to have dominion over them.

But this is not all. Having died with Christ by faith, the sinner, now a new creature in Him, rises with Him, by faith, to a new life, the life of the Spirit. He is a new creature, in other words, a new creation of that Spirit which raised Christ and raises the dead: … (II Cor. 5:17, Rom. 6:4, 7:6, 8:10-10). Hence we see the value and importance of the fact of the resurrection of Christ, in His work of redemption. It was no less necessary than the death itself, for the latter would leave us in death; it is the resurrection that introduces us into life, and, by putting an end to the reign of the law, of sin and of the flesh, inaugurates the period of the Spirit and of eternal Life: … (Rom. 4:25). It is this aspect of the redemptive value of the resurrection of Christ that constitutes the originality of the Pauline theory and forbids its being confounded with any other. In reality, the right expression to be used here is not substitution, but mutual identification. [Or better, mutual participation, R.L.R.]

The historical drama of the death and resurrection of Christ is an external drama without value or incomplete, as you will, except insofar as it is morally reproduced in the Christian. Strictly speaking, it is not Christ who expiates the sins of humanity; humanity expiates in Him its own sins, by dying to satisfy the demands of the law, and by rising again, a new creation at the call of Him who raises the dead.1  [All emphases added, R.L.R.]

1 See Paul: Sketch of Development of his Doctrine, 3rd edit., 1896. Appendix.

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