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"In the beginning, God' (Genesis 1:1).
God comes first. Before anyone else is mentioned, He is there."— The Bible

Friday, 27 June 2014

Berkouwer and Arminius

Berkouwer’s understanding of divine election is best understood in terms of the Dutch Reformation. There, one finds a similar struggle to avoid determinism and thus emphasize the sincerity of the Gospel offer. These motifs are found in the writings of the Dutch Reformer, James Arminius. The strong similarities between Berkouwer and Arminius should not to be taken to mean that Berkouwer regards himself as standing – unequivocally – in the line of Arminius.
While rejecting the equal ultimacy of election and rejection, Berkouwer insists that his own position need not involve the acceptance of an Arminian position (Divine Election, p. 189, n. 31). In his book, Faith and Justification, he explains how his his own position differs from ‘Arminianism’. He opposes, in Arminianism, a most dangerous ‘overestimation of faith as a spiritual achievement’ (p.87). Alongside this criticism of Arminianism, we must set Berkouwer’s favourable attitude towards recent criticism of the very document which opposed Arminianism (the Canons of Dordt). He sees, in such criticism of the Canons of Dordt, the deepest intentions of the Arminians of the seventeenth-century (A Half Century of Theology, pp.104-105). In seeking to describe Berkouwer’s view of Arminius and Arminianism, it may be useful to distinguish between the view of Arminius and the later development of Arminiianism.
In his book, Arminius: A Study in the Dutch Reformation, Carl Bangs has made a number of observations about Arminius which suggest a striking similarity to Berkouwer (I have reviewed this book in Reformed Review, 40, 2, 145).
(i) The historical situation in Holland was not a simple one of Calvinism coming in, Arminius nearly ruining it and the Synod of Dordt restoring it. Bangs comments, ‘The earliest Dutch Reformed leaders don’t seem to be Calvinists at all. They rise out of the soil, here and there, nurtured by the old Dutch piety, not seized by dogmatic insights but steadily pressing toward a purified life of faith, according to Scripture’ (p.21). This emphasis is similar to Berkouwer’s insistence that election is not a special gnosis for the theological elite. Rather, it is a confession of faith arising from the hearts of those who have come to know the grace of God (Divine Election, p.216).
(ii) Arminius’ theological method is ‘practical and through faith’: ‘For the Theology which belongs to this world, is practical and through faith: Theoretical Theology belongs to the other world, and consists of pure and unclouded vision. For this reason we must clothe the object of our Theology in such a manner as may enable us to worship God, and fully to persuade and win us over to that practice’ (cited by Bangs, p.63, from ‘Oration on the Object of Theology’ in The Works of James Arminius, I, p.264).
(iii) In Romans 9, Arminius finds the message of justification, the message of the freedom of God’s mercy, by which he determines that it will be the believer who will be saved. Bangs maintains that this interpretation of Romans 9 may be viewed as an affirmation of predestination. God has predestined to salvation all who believe in Christ. He also argues that Arminius stands in the Reformed tradition, since he insists that salvation is by grace alone and that human merit must be excluded as a cause of salvation. Only faith in Christ places the sinner in the company of the elect. Arminius’ understanding of Romans 9 is remarkably similar to the view expounded by Berkouwer as Reformed(Divine Election, pp.64-79, 209-217).
(iv) Against synergism – ‘half the work is God’s and half the work is man’s’ (see quotation from Sell, citing Duncan, below in (v)), Arminius affirms that grace is essential for the beginning, continuation and consummation of faith. He does, however, reject the distinction between a universal call which must be resisted and a special call which must be heeded – ‘Whomsoever God calls, he calls them seriously, with a will desirous of their repentance and salvation’ (Bangs, p. 343, citing ‘Certain Articles’ in The Works of James Arminius, I, p.497); ‘The whole controversy reduces itself to this question, “Is the grace of God a certain irresistible force?” … I believe that many persons resist the Holy Spirit and reject the grace that is offered’ (Bangs, p.343, citing The Works of James Arminius, pp. 253-254). Arminius’ point is that grace is not a force. Grace is a Person, the Holy Spirit, and in personal relationships there cannot be sheer overpowering. This is precisely what Berkouwer is concerned to maintain in his protest against the ‘ potestas absoluta’ (Divine Election, pp. 60ff.; The Return of Christ, p.444). It is precisely what Berkouwer means by his idea of the divine sovereignty as ‘the personal superiority of love and grace’ (Divine Election, pp. 49, 46).
(v) Regarding the enigmatic character of Arminius, Bangs writes, ‘Some Calvinists, finding that his writings do not produce the heresies they expected, have charged him with teaching secret heresy unpublshed. Many Arminians, finding him too Calvinistic, have written him off as a transitional thinker, a “forerunner”‘ (p. 18) (Here, we may also note the comment made by A P F Sell, in his book, The Great Debate, Calvinism, Arminianism and Salvation – ‘in important respects Arminius was not an Arminian’ (p. 97)). Berkouwer stands in the line of this element of the Dutch Reformation. To those who like to classify theologians as ‘Calvinists’ or ‘Arminians’, he is an enigma. He does not seem to fit. Perhaps, this is because he recognizes that the Gospel itself does not fit neatly into our systems (Again, we may note another comment from Sell – ‘Armnianism says that half the work is God’s and half the work is man’s. Calvinism asserts that the whole is God’s and the whole is man’s also’ (p. 1, citing Colloquia Peripatetica … being notes of conversations with the late John Duncan, p. 29). Note that Arminius’ rejection of this kind of ’synergism’ (see above in (iv)) is one of ‘the important respects’ in which, according to Sell, he was ‘not an Arminian’. For more of my own thoughts on Arminius in relation to ‘the five points of Calvinism’, see ‘Arminius – Hero or Heretic?’ in Evangelical Quarterly, 64:3 (1992), 213-227.)
(vi) Arminius was committed to the Reformed Confessions and their creative interpretation. He was concerned to teach nothing other than the teaching of the Dutch Confession of Faith and the Heidelberg Catechism (Bangs, pp. 460-461). he sought to present his teaching on predestination as true to the historic teaching of the Church, by which he meant the Belgic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism (p. 350). nonetheless, there was a curious duality about his relationship to the Confession and the Catechism. he believed his views were consonant with them yet he wanted them revised, reduced to the essentials, to remove the ambiguities that allowed for the views of his opponents (p. 315).
If Arminius is understood according to his deepest intentions and not according to a Pelagian distortion of his meaning, he can be regarded as a Reformed theologian, committed to the Confession and the Catechism, while maintaining an element of ambiguity with respect to them. This is essentially Berkouwer’s position. He seeks to interpret the Reformed standards, being careful to state which interpretation he favours and which he avoids. His favourable citation of recent developments in the confessional life of the Dutch Church has been noted, with the observation that his concern, in such discussions, has been for the interpretation rather than categorical rejection of the Canons of Dordt.
* Bangs points out that the historical situation in Holland was not a simple one – Calvinism coming in, Arminius nearly ruining it and the Synod of Dort restoring it:
“The earliest Dutch Reformed leaders don’t seem to be Calvinists at all. They rise out of the soil, here and there, nurtured by the old Dutch biblical piety, not seized by dogmatic insights, but steadily pressing toward a purified life of faith according to Scripture” (p. 21).
This emphasis is similar to Berkouwer’s insistence that election is not a special gnosis for the theological elite. Rather, it is a confession of faith, arising from the hearts of those who have come to know the grace of God (Divine Election (DE), p. 216).
* Bangs observes that Arminius’ theological method is “practical and through faith”: “For the Theology which belongs to this world, is practical and through faith: Theoretical Theology belongs to the other world, and consists of pure and unclouded vision. For this reason we must clothe the object of our Theology in such a manner as may enable us to worship God, and fully to persuade and win us over to that practice” (p. 63, citing “Oration on the Object of Theology”, The Works of James Arminius, D. D. (WJA), (London edition 1825, 1828, 1875), I, p. 264).
This understanding of theology bears an amazing similarity to Berkouwer’s doxological approach which sets the doctrine of election in the context of praise and thanksgiving (DE, pp. 26, 65).
* Bangs looks closely at Arminius’ exposition of Romans 9 (Chapter 14 – “Theology in Amsterdam: Romans 9; The Conference with Junius”, pp. 193-205).
In Romans 9, Arminius finds the message of justification, the message of the freedom of God’s mercy, by which He determines that it will be the believer who will be saved. This is an affirmation of predestination. God has predestined to salvation all who believe in Christ.
Bangs argues that Arminius stands in the Reformed tradition, since he insists that salvation is by grace alone and that human merit must be excluded as a cause of salvation. Only faith in Christ places the sinner in the company of the elect (p. 340). Arminius’ understanding of Romans 9 is remarkably similar to the view expounded by Berkouwer as Reformed (DE, pp. 64-79, 209-217).
* Against synergism, Arminius affirms that grace is essential for the beginning, continuation and consummation of faith. He does, however, reject the distinction between a universal call which must be resisted and a special call which must be heeded.
“Whomsoever God calls, he calls them seriously, with a will desirous pf their repentance and salvation” (Bangs, p. 343; citing “Certain Articles”, WJA, (London edition 1956), I, p. 497).
“The whole controversy reduces itself to this question, ‘Is the grace of God a certain irresistible force?’ … I believe that many persons resist the Holy Spirit and reject the grace that is offered” (Bangs, p. 343, citing WJA, 1956, pp. 253-254).
Arminius’ point is that grace is not a force. Grace is a Person, the Holy Spirit, and, in personal relationships, there cannot be sheer overpowering. This is precisely what Berkouwer is concerned to maintain in his protest against the ‘potestas absoluta’ (DE, pp. 60ff; cf The Return of Christ, p. 444). It is precisely what Berkouwer means by his idea of the divine sovereignty as “the personal superiority of love and grace” (DE, pp. 49, 46).
* Regarding the enigmatic character of Arminius, Bangs writes,
“Some Calvinists, finding that his writings do not produce the heresies they expected, have charged him with teaching secret heresy unpublished. Many Arminians, finding him too Calvinistic, have written him off as a transitional thinker, a ‘forerunner’” (p. 118; cf. A P F Sell, The Great Debate, Calvinism, Arminianism and Salvation (GD) – “in important respects Arminius was not an Arminian” (p. 97)).
Berkouwer stands in the line of this element of the Dutch Reformation. To those who like to classify theologians as ‘Calvinists’ or ‘Arminians’, he is an enigma. He does not seem to fit. Perhaps, this is because he recognizes that the Gospel itself does not fit neatly into our systems.
In his booklet, A Hole in the Dike: Critical Aspects of Berkouwer’s Theology, C W Bogue has difficulty in classifying Berkouwer within his own Calvinist – Arminian distinction (p. 19).
A helpful manner of stating the difference between Calvinism and Arminianism is found in A P F Sell, GD. – “Arminianism says that half the work is God’s and half the work is man’s. Calvinism asserts that the whole is God’s and the whole is man’s also” (p. 1, citing Colloquia Peripatetica … being notes of conversations with the late John Duncan, 6th edition, 1907, p. 29).
* Arminius was committed to the Reformed Confessions and their creative interpretation. He was concerned to teach nothing other than the teaching of the Dutch Confession of Faith and the Heidelberg Catechism (Bangs, pp. 460-461).
He sought to present his teaching of predestination as true to the historic teaching of the Church, by which he meant the Belgic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism (p. 350).
Nonetheless, there was a curious duality about his relationship to the Confession and the Catechism.
He believed his views to be consonant with them yet he wanted them to be revised, reduced to the essentials, to remove the ambiguities that allowed for the views of his opponents (p. 315).
* If Arminius is understood according to his deepest intentions and not according to a Pelagian distortion of his meaning, he can be regarded as a Reformed theologian, committed to the Confession and the Catechism, while maintaining an element of ambiguity with respect to them.
In essence, this is Berkouwer’s position. He seeks to interpret the Reformed standards, being careful to state which interpretation he favours and which he avoids.
In his favourable citation of recent developments in the confessional life of the Dutch
Church, his concern is with interpretation rather than categorical rejection of the Canons of Dort.
A child of the Reformation, Berkouwer seeks always to interpret, rather than categorically reject, the Reformers and the Reformed Confessions.
He bears a marked affinity to the Dutch reformation, “nurtured by the old Dutch biblical piety, steadily pressing toward a purified life of faith according to the Scriptures” (Bangs, p. 21).
When we make a connection between Berkouwer and “the old Dutch biblical piety”, we should note also his “consistent apologetic intention … directed against scholasticism” (S Meijers, Objectiviteit en Existentialitet (Objectivity and Existentiality), p.448).
His work is done in a pietistic rather than a scholastic perspective. This does not lead him into subjectivism. It does enable him to deal with the living character of God’s Word.

Natural theology and general revelation

Berkouwer makes a clear distinction between natural theology and general revelation. He emphasizes that knowledge of revelation is arrived at not through natural theology but through experience of the salvation of God “that opens doors and windows towards God’s handiwork” ("General Revelation", p. 131).
While this places the emphasis on the priority of divine revelation, it doesn't mean that we should opt out of the apologetic task of presenting a reasonable faith to a sceptical and unbelieving world.
The emphasis on the experience of the salvation of God is important. It reminds us that there is a difference between the living God and an idea of God.
The living God calls for our attention. He speaks to us about our sin. This is something that we can't get away from. He speaks to us about His salvation. This is our greatest need. The idea of God, reached as the result of an intellectual argument, is something about which many people are inclined to say, "That's for the academics."
The living God and the God of natural theology (or the God, reached through the traditional proofs of His existence) - What are we to say about this contrast? I don't think that it needs to be an absolutte contrast. It is a matter of emphasis. In a theology which emphasizes the reality and priority of divine revelation, there is a place for apologetics.
Handled sensitively within the context of the principle, "I believe that I may understand", philosophical arguments cam perform a positive function in Christian theology. They would not, however, be viewed as 'proofs.' Rather, they might function as an aid to Christian reflection concerning the meaning of faith in God. When, however, such arguments for God's existence are removed from the context of faith in the God of revelation, we are left with a pale reflection of the God of Christian faith.
Berkouwer insists that the question, "Does God exist?" implies the further question, "Who is God?" He emphasizes that this second question is "a most existential and relevant question ... not a theoretical question about God's existence as a 'thing'" ("A Half Century of Theology", p. 77).
The question of God is a deep question, which is raised by the question of the meaning and purpose of our whole experience of life. When we ask the question of God's existence in the context of the whole of our life, we are led beyond an academic debate, which remains, for many people, at the periphery of life.
By emphasizing the priority of divine revelation, I am not encouraging blind faith. I am, however, suggesting that Christian faith is not built on a foundation of natural theology. Christian faith is a humble and grateful response to the living God, whose revelation brings meaning and purpose to our life.
This is not to devalue the work of apologetics. It is, however, a call for each of us to remember that the God in whom we put our trust is always greater than all of the words we use when we speak of Him.
In his approach to God and His revelation, Berkouwer makes three important points.
(a) The way of authoritarianism is excluded.
We must always remember that our knowledge of God is not complete knowledge. In God's revelation, there is always a hidden element which remains beyond our understanding. While we are called to speak with conviction, we dare not suggest that we have all the answers.
(b) The way of rationalism is excluded.
Our thoughts cannot be compared with God's thoughts. His thoughts are always higher than our thoughts. This is why we must speak of the mystery of revelation. There is always something about God that defies our ability to describe Him.
(c) The way of mysticism is excluded.
God's revelation is not comprehensive. There are many questions that remain unanswered. We do, however, confess our faith in the clarity of His revelation. For our life's journey, His Word is a bright shining light (Psalm 119:105).
I think that this way, proposed by Berkouwer, is a way that combines both positive commitment and openness. It points to a way of overcoming three serious impasses.
(i) the authoritarian impasse between those who accept and those who reject
There can be meaningful conversation without any compromise of our strongly-held convictions;
(ii) the rationalistic impasse between "mindless fideism and faithless rationalism" (from a review of Berkouwer's "A Half Century of Theology");
(iii) the mystical impasse between those who have the experience and those who do not
While Berkouwer's theology is experiential, he is not dismissive of those who haven't had the experience. He does encourage people to experience the salvation of God, but he does not write them off with the rather glib remark, "You'll understand once you've had the experience."

Salvation through Christ


Drawing on L Newbigin’s book, The Finality of Christ, Michael Green writes, “It is one thing to claim that all salvation is through Christ … It is quite another to claim that nobody finds life with God unless they pass through the doorway of explicit Christian faith … The Christian Church has never maintained that overt knowledge of the person and work of Jesus was essential for salvation … So to maintain … that “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12) does not mean that no man can be saved unless he has heard of Jesus: it does mean that Jesus is the only saviour of men” (The Truth of God Incarnate, pp. 118-119, emphasis mine).
Also of interest are the comments made by S H Travis in his book, I Believe in the Second Coming of JesusCommenting on those who have no real opportunity to hear the message of Christ, Travis writes, “it is possible to affirm the possibility of salvation for such people, without surrendering the belief that Jesus is God’s unique means of salvation. People who lived before Christ of after him in non-Christian cultures may find salvation through Christ, even though they do not know his name, by casting themselves on the mercy of God. If a Hindu finds salvation, it is not by virtue of being a good Hindu any more than a Christian is saved by being a good Christian. Whatever a person’s religious background, ‘saving faith’ involves coming to an end of one’s own ‘religion’ and abandoning oneself to the grace of God” (p. 204, emphasis original).

John McLeod Campbell on the Atonement

We begin with the charges brought against McLeod Campbell by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1831: “the doctrine of universal atonement and pardon through the death of Christ, as also the doctrine that assurance is of the essence of faith and necessary for salvation are contrary to Holy Scripture and to the Confession of Faith … ” This does not provide us with the full content of the differences between McLeod Campbell and the Westminster Confession. It does provide us with a historical starting - point since it highlights the differences as they were defined by the General Assembly. To understand the full extent of the differences, we must set these charges within the broader context of McLeod Campbell’s thought.
A particular doctrine cannot be understood in isolation from the whole system of theology which lies behind it. After the 1831 trial, there were further developments in McLeod Campbell’s thought. There was an increasing emphasis on the nature of the atonement as “moral and spiritual” (The Nature of the Atonement, pp. 398-399). It would would be inappropriate to focus primarily on the differences as they were stated by the General Assembly in 1831. At that point, McLeod Campbell’s theory of the nature the atonement had not been fully developed. We must not limit ourselves to the 1831 charges. We must look at the bigger picture. We do this by looking closely at his book, The Nature of the Atonement.
In the history of the doctrine of the atonement, there has been a tendency to classify theories of the atonement as either subjective or objective. This kind of classification is rather crude. It is not particularly helpful. This approach tends to see McLeod Campbell’s theory as subjective and the Confession’s view as objective. This is an oversimplified misrepresentation of McLeod Campbell’s view. This becomes clear as we look closely at his theological method.
He does not begin with a rigorous distinction between the objective and the subjective.
He holds that Christian doctrine must be set within the context of a personal experience of faith.
- He often refers to “the conscience of an awakened sinner” (Chapter 1).
- Noting Luther’s emphasis on “our” in “Christ died for our sins”, he protests against this “our” being interpreted in terms of a limited atonement (Chapter 3).
- Noting that there is “a contradiction between “the faith of the head and the love of the heart”, he suggests that this “contradiction” might have led the “earlier Calvinists” to “rethink “the faith of the head” (p. 67).
- Discussing Christ’s use of the words of Psalm 22 - “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” (v.1), he sets these words within the context of the struggle involved in the life of faith. He relates verse 1 to verse 24 - “For He has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; He has not hidden His face from him but has listened to his cry for help”. He is emphasizing that the experience of struggle must be set within the context of the affirmation of faith. He suggests that there is here the possibility of a more dynamic interpretation, a view that is different from the one which simply sees Christ’s words as a straightforward statement that God, in pouring His wrath upon Christ, had forsaken Him.
He does not look for an illusory ‘objectivity’.
Protesting against a “legal fiction”, he emphasizes that the objective and the subjective are to be held together. He does not regard this as a retreat into subjectivism. He holds that his approach is implicit in the nature of faith as a personal relation in which faith receives from the Object of its faith, God. He is not suggesting that the believer’s faith becomes the ultimate authority. He insists that our participation in the atonement is not itself an atonement nor is our participation in the propitiation itself a propitiation (pp. 330-331). As we look closely at his understanding of faith, we will see that it leads to a view of the relation between grace and faith which is rather different from the view associated with Calvinism.
He emphasizes the personal nature of faith.
He emphasizes that the filial should be given priority over the legal. This is important for an understanding of the Christian life as well as the atonement.
He bases his theology upon divine revelation.
McLeod Campbell shares with his Calvinist critics a commitment to the authority of Scripture. Like them, he takes us to the Scriptures. He does, however, challenge their interpretation of Scripture. He does not view the Old Testament sacrificial system as our pattern for understanding the atonement. He emphasizes the discontinuity between that system and the atoning sacrifice of Christ. He considers Hebrews 10:7 - “Lo, I come to do Thy will, O God” as the key to the atonement (pp. 123-125). In these words, he sees more than a declaration of the intention of making atonement. He also sees the essential nature of the atonement as moral and spiritual. In offering an interpretation of Scripture which is rather different from the one offered by his Calvinist critics, McLeod Campbell encourages his readers to examine the Scriptures further as they consider his theory of the atonement.
He emphasizes the value of reason in the development of theological understanding.
He has a high estimation of the role of reason in his theological method (pp. 374-375). In his protest against a ‘legal fiction’, he refuses to hide behind “unconceived mysteries”. This, he says, encourages confusion of thought. He wonders whether the confusion of thought, which he sees in the ‘legal fiction’, might not have led his critics to rethink the conception of God which undergirds their doctrine of the atonement (pp. 312-313), thus paving the way for a clearer understanding of the Fatherly nature of God.
He begins with the conviction that “there is forgiveness with God”.
"There is forgiveness with God". McLeod Campbell holds that this is what moved God to provide atonement for man. He emphasizes ‘forgiveness therefore atonement’ rather than ‘atonement therefore forgiveness’. He sees atonement as a revelation of the forgiving love of God. He does not mean to exclude the divine condemnation of sin. This is implicit in the real meaning of forgiveness. It is because sin is taken seriously that there can be forgiveness. Sin requires to be condemned. If our sin is not worthy of His condemnation then we do not require His forgiveness. In Christ’s dealing with men on behalf of God, McLeod Campbell sees the divine condemnation of sin as well as the divine forgiveness of sin.
"There is forgiveness with God". The question has been asked of McLeod Campbell, “Can God not then forgive man freely without any need for the atonement?” He regards this as a hypothetical question. He says that it does not relate to the real situation. Man is estranged from God. Man needs to be reconciled to God. If, in this real situation of estrangement from God, man is to experience His forgiveness, there needs to be a revelation of the divine holiness which condemns sin and the divine love which forgives sin. Without this revelation of God’s holiness and God’s love, man could not be reconciled to God since he would be unaware of the mind of God concerning both his his sin and himself, the sinner. Emphasizing that God’s way of forgiveness take account of man’s real situation of estrangement from God, McLeod Campbell insists that there needs to be more than a bare word of forgiveness. Thus, he sees no conflict between the freedom of God’s forgiveness and His way of atonement through the death of His Son, Jesus Christ.
How do the justice and wrath of God fit into McLeod Campbell’s theory of the atonement?
We should not be too quick to assume that he plays down the divine justice and the divine wrath. He insists on the necessity of absolute justice (see his discussion of the notion of “rectorial justice” associated with the modified Calvinism, The Nature of the Atonement, Chapter 4). He describes the wrath of God against sin as a reality with which Christ dealt on behalf of men, “according to it that which was due” (p. 135).
He does not set the love and justice of God over against each other. He does not think of Christ receiving the punishment due to man (or the equivalent referred to in the modified Calvinism). He contends that such an approach gives the legal priority over the filial.
Defenders of penal substitution might argue that McLeod Campbell’s account of their view is a caricature. They would maintain that the source of the atonement is the love of God. They would dissociate themselves from the idea of a loving Son wringing something out of a stern and unwilling Father. McLeod Campbell challenges the internal consistency of their view. He insists that there should be no suggestion that God is made to be forgiving by the atonement.
He maintains that the atonement must be made by God if it is to be adequate. He also insists that it must be made in humanity if it is to be adequate for man. This, he says, has been done in Jesus Christ, the God - Man. Christ has declared to man the perfect love and holiness of God. Christ has, in humanity, made the perfect response to the love and holiness of God.
McLeod Campbell holds that, as the God- Man, Christ dealt with the wrath of God. As God, in humanity, He feels all that the Father, in holiness and love, feels in relation to man’s sin and man, the sinner. As the Man, who is God, He responds perfectly to the love and holiness of God. In Christ’s perfect response to God’s holiness, there is a perfect response to the wrath of God against sin. In this perfect response, the wrath of God is fully apprehended and fully absorbed. Thus, McLeod Campbell maintains that the divine justice receives its due satisfaction (pp. 135-137).
There has been much criticism of his understanding of Christ’s perfect response to the wrath of God. It is important that we attempt to understand what he is saying and what he is not saying. In his idea of the vicarious repentance of Christ, he is not suggesting that the sinner does not need to repent. He says that the sinner will add the “excepted” element of a “personal consciousness of sin”. In the consciousness of the repentant sinner, all that is morally and spiritually true and acceptable to God in his repentance is an ‘Amen’ to Christ’s confession and intercession on man’s behalf. This ‘Amen’ does not involve resting on one’s own repentance. Rather, it involves resting on Christ’s righteousness. In making this point, he stresses that our repentance is not in itself an atonement.
McLeod Campbell insists that he has not replaced a legal fiction with a moral fiction. A moral fiction would involve the idea that Christ felt our sin as His own and the Father heard His confession as one of personal guilt. This view fails to recognize Christ’s personal separation from sin. In his use of the idea of vicarious repentance, McLeod Campbell does not wish to suggest any sense of personal guilt on the part of Christ (p. 400).
In presenting his view of vicarious repentance, McLeod Campbell quotes the words of Jonathan Edwards who said that, if atonement was to be made, there needed to be “either an equivalent punishment or an equivalent sorrow and repentance”. Edwards proceeded to say that “sin must be punished with an infinite punishment”. He assumed that the other alternative was not viable. McLeod Campbell explores this second possibility - “an equivalent sorrow or repentance”.
McLeod Campbell holds that, in relation to both God and man, Christ fulfilled the law of love, the law of God’s being. To man, Christ condemned sin on behalf of God. To God, Christ confessed sin on behalf of man. He describes suffering, in life as well as death, as “the perfect response of the divine holiness and love in humanity to the aspect of the divine mind in the Father towards the sins of men” (p. 141). He describes Christ’s suffering as “vicarious, expiatory, an atonement - an atonement for sin as distinguished from the punishment of sin” (p. 141). He emphasizes that God’s righteous condemnation of sin does not simply demand the suffering. It is expressed in the suffering. He maintains that God’s love does not merely submit to the suffering. It is expressed in the suffering. Atonement is not simply made possible by the incarnation. It is a development of the incarnation.
McLeod Campbell emphasizes the atoning significance of Christ’s entire life. Under the wrath of God yet loved by the Father - this was Christ’s experience throughout His life. Throughout His life, on behalf of sinful man, He bore the condemnation of the divine holiness. Throughout His life, as God’s beloved Son, He declared the divine love for sinners.