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Lecture VIII: God's Work and Man's Salvation

(Art. 9–10)

That our Lord Jesus offered himselfe a voluntary Sacrifice unto his Father for us, that he suffered contradiction of sinners, that he was wounded and plagued for our transgressiouns, that hee being the cleane innocent Lambe of God, was damned in the presence of an earthlie Judge, that we suld be absolved befoir the tribunal seat of our God. That hee suffered not onlie the cruell death of the Crosse, quhilk was accursed be the sentence of God; bot also that he suffered for a season the wrath of his Father, quhilk sinners had deserved. Bot zit we avow that he remained the only welbeloved and blessed Sonne of his Father, even in the middest of his anguish and torment, quhilk hee suffered in bodie and saule, to mak the full satisfaction for the sinnes of the people. After the quhilk we confesse and avow, that there remaines na uther Sacrifice for sinne, quhilk gif ony affirme, we nathing dout to avow, that they ar blasphemous against Christs death, and the everlasting purgatioun and satisfactioun purchased to us be the same.


We undoubtedlie beleeve, that in sa mekle as it wes impossible, that the dolours of death sulde reteine in bondage the Author of life, that our Lord Jesus crucified, dead and buryed, quha descended into hell, did ryse agayne for our Justificatioun, and destroying of him quha wes the Author of death, brocht life againe to us, that wer subject to death, and to the bondage of the same. We knaw that his Resurrectioun wes confirmed be the testimonie of his verie Enemies, be the resurrectioun of the dead, quhais Sepultures did oppen, and they did ryse, and appeared to mony, within the Cittie of Jerusalem. It wes also confirmed be the testimonie of his Angels, and be the senses and judgements of his Apostles, and of uthers, quha had conversatioun, and did eate and drink with him, after his Resurrection.


In order to survey Articles 9–10, we may start with the question which we left open in the previous lecture, although there could be no doubt about the answer even there. The question is: What is the distinguishing mark of man as elected by God? To this Articles 9–10 reply in the characteristic way hitherto adopted, by giving two answers which are to be distinguished but not separated. Both answers speak of man's salvation, even although this word, which sums up their content, is not expressly used. Man's salvation is his deliverance, but it is more than that. It is his restoration, but it is more than that. It is his translation to a higher status than the one which he had occupied by virtue of his creation and within the original dispensation. Salvation means therefore not merely that man is saved from certain very serious consequences of his sin, or merely that his original relation to God is restored. Beyond all this, salvation means that man becomes a new man. This new man is the man who in God's sight is not a sinner but a righteous being, and therefore one who has escaped from death and partakes of life. It is this partaking of salvation which is the distinguishing mark of man as elected by God.

Even if we have only an inkling of all that this entails, it is enough to let us grasp the fact (as the contents of our previous lecture too would already lead us to expect) that the Confessio Scotica in this very passage says nothing whatsoever directly about man as man, as if by his own work he could accomplish his salvation or even contribute to it. We look in vain for any such view in Articles 9–10. On the contrary, in this very passage the Confession speaks exclusively of one subject, Jesus Christ, as the One in and through whom man has received his salvation (1) by being absolved from his sin in virtue of Christ's death on the cross and (2) by being proclaimed a righteous being, who is to live, in virtue of Christ's resurrection from the dead. Therefore man's salvation is not the work of man, but the work of God, and that is what is meant by the title of our lecture. The work of God, as it takes place and manifests itself in His revelation, is the incarnation of His Son, and the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as the epitome and consummation of that incarnation.


The guiding conception, through which the Scottish Confession develops its view of the death of Jesus Christ, which we deal with first, is that of sacrifice. Jesus Christ gives Himself up not only to the power of human disorder and order, human arbitrariness and justice, but to the power of the wrath of God, deservedly kindled against man. He takes the place of sinful man and undergoes the punishment which man was bound to undergo, in order that man may be free and his sins forgiven. Jesus Christ is “delivered for our offences” (Rom. 4, 25).

In order to understand this, it is necessary first to keep before us the fact which occupied us all through our last lecture, that God becomes man. As man Jesus Christ is able to offer Himself as a sacrifice, and as man He does so also. The death of Jesus Christ is the sum and consummation of the incarnation of the Son of God, in so far as His death makes it clear that the incarnation means the humiliation—the complete humiliation of God. The picture of Jesus Christ the Crucified reveals what the curse, the plight and the despair of sinful man mean. Other pictures of human suffering exist as well, pictures too of comparatively innocent human suffering. But it cannot be said of any of the many others who as men have suffered, are suffering and will suffer, that they have endured the wrath of God. It is the suffering of Jesus Christ utterly and alone which is “the revelation of the wrath of God revealed from heaven” (Rom. 1, 18). Jesus Christ and He alone has experienced what sin and death really mean. The completeness of God's humiliation in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and the boundlessness of the self-sacrifice He accomplished here, lies in His taking upon Himself as man everything which man's rebellion against Him has made inevitable—suffering and death but also perdition and hell, punishment in time and in eternity, in utter disregard of the fact that this is not worthy of Him as God. Where does God remain and what still remains His, as God, when God's Son has been slain on Calvary?1 It is certainly true that if ever there was a sacrifice, the death of Jesus Christ is the sacrifice of sacrifices.

But now if we are to understand this, we must remember the other fact which occupied us all through our last lecture, that it was God who became man and that as God Jesus Christ is able to make His sacrifice profitable and beneficial, and that as God He does so also. Even on Calvary and in the death of His Son, in the depth of this self-sacrifice and humiliation, God does not cease to be true and eternal God. For how could God cease to be God? And because He is God, He possesses the will and the power also to accept the sacrifice made by Himself and thus to let His own humiliation operate as satisfaction and to acknowledge His own bearing of man's sin, guilt and punishment as the atonement, which has taken place for the violation of His ordinance. Thus and for this reason He possesses the will and the power not to reckon man's sin—our sin—against him, to remember his guilt no more, and not to inflict the punishment due to him. His reason for passing it all over is that He has taken man's sin, guilt and punishment away from man and upon Himself. It is only because He is God that His infinite sacrifice can possess this infinite significance. But because He is God, this sacrifice can and does possess this truly infinite significance that for Jesus Christ's sake man is not a sinner and therefore also not condemned and lost but is released—for time and eternity, once for all and completely—from the bondage under which he had come. What was it that Jesus Himself said? “Thy sins are forgiven thee” (Mark 2, 5). That is the release and the acquittal granted. How could it be valid and efficacious except on the lips of God Himself against whom we have sinned? For that very reason this is the one and only acquittal. But the One against whom we have sinned, the living God, is the person from whom we receive an acquittal which is full and final because it comes from His own lips. He has humbled Himself to the uttermost in His incarnation. It is He, the same living God, who says to us in His humiliation, that on account of it our humiliation is at an end.


What the Scottish Confession says in Article 10 concerning the resurrection of Christ is less complete and penetrating than what it said concerning His death. It is a cause for surprise that more than half of the text of Article 10 is devoted to a kind of apologetical proof of the historical truth of the resurrection, the necessity for which is not clear. But one can recognise that the authors saw the meaning of the resurrection—which is the other side of the epitome and consummation of the incarnation of the Son of God—in the victory gained there by the Author of life over the author of death. The self-sacrifice of God is proved not to have been in vain by the fact that death cannot hold Jesus Christ, who was put to death for the sake of man's sin, and that thereby man is not only acquitted but declared righteous and so has become a partaker in everlasting life. “He was raised for our justification” (Rom. 4, 25).

In distinction from what we did before, we must now begin from the fact that it was God who became man. It is because Jesus Christ is God, the eternal Son of the eternal Father, that death cannot hold Him and that His death can only be a gateway to life. Corresponding to the humiliation of the Son of God in His death we have the exaltation of the Son of man through His power as Son of God, a power not diminished, let alone destroyed, by His humiliation.2 If He is the true God, and therefore the creator and author of all life, how could He, while yielding to the power of death, be anything but its conqueror? But this is the very fact which Calvary renders fundamentally questionable. The Son of God in reality and not only in appearance has come under the judgement of God infinitely more deeply and really than any man whatsoever. Can it be true after all that He was not the Messiah of Israel, the Son of God? Was He only a man like all of us, specially marked out and punished by God? Was He, as the charge ran, a blasphemer? The fact that He is the Lord of life with power to forgive sins, requires just as thorough going a proof now as did the fact of His death. The proof consists in the rising from the dead, the transfiguring and glorifying of the man Jesus Christ. In His unity with man the Son of God endures death; then conversely it must be in His unity with man that He conquers it. The content of the Easter message is that this has happened, that this dead man, as such, has appeared in a new life to His own people and as man is God for ever and ever. It is possible to deny and reject the Easter message, or even to say roundly that it is impossible. But the only form in which it can be affirmed and understood is to say that this man as man has arisen. Any qualification in this instance would be equivalent to a denial. For if Jesus Christ has not risen, if He has not risen as man, and therefore visibly and corporally risen from the dead, then He has not revealed Himself as the Son of God, then we know nothing about His having been so, nor do we know anything of the infinite value of His sacrifice. In that case we would have no knowledge of the forgiveness of our sin or of our election or of God's gracious decision in our favour. In that case the whole Christian church is based on an illusion and the whole of what is called Christianity is one huge piece of moral sentimentalism, to which we cannot say farewell soon enough—if Christ had not risen from the dead, then I would have no desire to stand before you as a theologian—but that all this is not so, rests entirely on the fact that Jesus Christ was God Himself. And our knowledge that this is no dream but the truth, and the fact that we have received that knowledge, rest entirely on the Easter message literally understood. It is certainly true that “if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins” (1 Cor. 15, 17). And thus it is certainly true that here is the real dividing point where revelation as a whole and with it the entire Christian faith is either affirmed or denied. A confession which was weak at this point would not be a Christian confession. Whether a confession is good, bad or indifferent, is to be decided by the consistency with which it proceeds in its thought and expression from this affirmative attitude, which must be adopted towards revelation here, because revelation itself has given an affirmation at this point. Thank God that the Scottish Confession is a good confession at this point, and pray God that the Church of Scotland to-day will affirm this.

Perhaps this will be still clearer, if at this point also we start once more from the other truth that God became man. It is certainly not by the power of His humanity that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. There is therefore no point in asserting that a dead man could not become alive again. Naturally not, how could he? For what' the Easter message asserts is not that He was able to do so as man, by virtue of some potentiality or other present in His humanity. On the contrary, it ascribes the fact that Jesus Christ has risen from the dead entirely to His divinity. But it certainly does mean that even in His resurrection Jesus Christ did not cease to be true man. What is at stake in the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the exaltation of man to be a partaker in the majesty of God, the realisation of a human life in eternal righteousness, innocence and blessedness, and eternal life not only for God but also now for man. The content of the Easter message is that He, being the same as we are, namely man, is God from eternity, and that message is a promise for all men, because it confers on them all—again for Jesus Christ's sake—the new robe of righteousness before God and with it eternal life. What it offers therefore is not only forgiveness of sin but something positive, righteousness; not only freedom from guilt and punishment but something positive, freedom to be God's children; not only the reduction of death to relative unimportance and comfort in the hour of death, but something positive, immortal life victorious over death. “Arise, take up thy bed and walk” (Mark 2, 9). We have now to ask once more: Would that be faith which was not faith in this promise? What would the church have to say, if she had not this to say, if she had not the justification of sinful man to proclaim? If people to-day assert that the church is weak and that she has nothing to say, is not the reason just that she has not the courage to say this? Is she not really a true church when she truly proclaims justification and a false church when she does so falsely? But how is she to proclaim it, if she has no promise? How is she to proclaim salvation to man, if no salvation has come? But how could it have come, if it had not come in the man Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, as the apostles proclaimed Him? Therefore when it is viewed from this side also, we possess every reason to take the decision seriously—the Either-Or, before which we stand at this point.


Let us conclude here also with a critical comment. At the end of Article 9 the Confessio Scotica makes a fierce sally against those who are not content with the one sacrifice of Jesus Christ—a sally clearly directed against the Roman Church. Such men are called “Blasphemous against Christ's death, and the everlasting purgatioun and satisfactioun purchased to us be the same.” We will be true to the spirit of the Confessio Scotica, if we adopt this arraignment in regard to the whole content of Articles 9–10, and therefore in regard to the whole of what we have described as man's salvation. Man's salvation is the work of God. It is therefore not the work of man. He cannot offer the sacrifice which Jesus Christ offered, nor can he win the victory which Jesus Christ won. He can only receive again and again the forgiveness effected for him once for all, and the righteousness conferred on him once for all. He can only believe. No performance of a cult and no moral endeavour could take the place of this receptive faith. There is therefore no means of attaining salvation by one's own effort, since this is absolutely forbidden us, according to good Reformed teaching; because we utter blasphemy against Jesus Christ, when we do not allow Him to be our only comfort in life and in death. Does it not now become clear why and in what sense the Confessio Scotica asserts so passionately at the very beginning: “We confesse and acknawledge ane onelie God”? Confession of the one and only God has its roots here. If this was directed in those sixteenth-century days against the Roman Church, we can certainly repeat it to-day with this same anti-Roman tendency, but preferably not in this direction only and perhaps not in this direction primarily. It is high time to announce within the Reformation church itself with the emphasis of a new truth, that man's salvation is the work of God exclusively, and to say anything else is to blaspheme against Jesus Christ; or in the words of the famous passage, Romans 3, 28, in Luther's correct translation, “We conclude that a man is justified without the works of the Law by faith alone—by faith alone.”

I have received a letter, the writer of which maintains that it is both impossible and incomprehensible that God should suffer death and perdition. To this I would reply that this is the sacrifice of which the Bible speaks. (See further note, p. 86.)

I personally could give no answer to my correspondent (see page 84), who objected that the humiliation and death of the Son of God is impossible. But here is the answer. The resurrection is the answer to the impossibility of His death.