Page:Modern Rationalism (1897).djvu/35

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35
RATIONALISM IN THEOLOGY.

But the great struggle of the century between the Broad Church and the orthodox, and one which is closely connected with the theory of sin, is over the question of the Atonement. If sin is not a matter of guilt and responsibility, and if vindictive punishment is thought unworthy of the Deity, then the traditional conception of the Atonement must be discarded. Hence the liberals at once began to change entirely the character of the dogma. God is represented in the new school as a principle of infinite love; his whole dispensation is marked with love, not with anger and vindictiveness, as a less enlightened religious feeling conceived it to be. Hence there is nothing to be seen in the Atonement but love; the cruder elements of "punishment" and "victim of divine wrath," etc., must be relegated to the ages that imported them into the Biblical conception. Coleridge protests against the notion that Christ paid a debt for us; sin does not incur a debt. Trench says that the Atonement was quite independent of the Fall of Adam. Maurice and Kingsley protest against its being considered as a reconciliation of a sinful humanity and an angry Deity. Jowett's refined moral sense declares that sacrifice is a "crude and barbarous notion"—a relic of the ancient days when savages thought their gods eat and drank like themselves—and that there is no sacrificial idea in the Atonement. Only in a figurative sense can we speak of the "sacrifice of the cross"—the phrase which has been on the lips of Christendom for nineteen centuries. J. Macleod Campbell, of the Scotch Established Church, says it was "a moral and spiritual atonement;" justice looks to the sinner, not as an object of punishment, but simply as being in the undesirable condition of unrighteousness. In a word, the whole of the Rationalizers, like the schools of Schleiermacher and Hofmann in Germany, and the corresponding school in the United States, reject the familiar Christian doctrine that Christ procured salvation for humanity. That is a step of profound significance.

Still they retain, as usually happens, most of the old terminology, though the sense of the word has entirely changed. Setting aside such as deny the divinity of Christ, they have several theories of the death of the Son of God. Some look upon it as a sensible representation to humanity of the enormity of sin; the majority, however,