What is the real objective element in the Bible’s gospel? What is the real objective element in atonement? We are tempted, I say, to declare that it was the offering of a sacrifice to God outside of Him and us, the offering of a sacrifice to God by somebody not God yet more than a single man. That is the natural, the pagan notion of objective atonement. But the real meaning of an objective atonement is that God Himself made the complete sacrifice. The real objectivity of the atonement is not that it was made to God, but by God. It was atonement made by God, not by man. When I use the word objective, I do not mean objective to you or to me. You are objective to me, and I to you. That is not the idea. Let us learn to thing on the scale of the whole race. What is objective to that? The deadly kind of subjectivity is the kind that is engrossed with individuals, or with humanity, and does not allow for God. It is the egotism of the race. And the real objectivity is that which is objective to the whole human race, over against it, and not merely facing you or me within it. The real objective element in the atonement, therefore, is that God made it and gave it finished to man, not that it was made to God by man. Any atonement made by man would be subjective, however much it might be made for man by his brother, or by a representative of entire Humanity.
But we have a certain farther difficulty to face here. If it was God that made the atonement – which it certainly was in Christianity – then was it not made to man? Can God reconcile Himself? And can the atonement mean anything more than the attuning of man to God – that is to say, of individual men in their subjective experience? God then says to each soul, “Be reconciled. See, I have put My anger away.” Can such attuning of Himself by God have for its results anything more than individual conversion? Now, conversion means much, but it does not mean the whole of Christianity. Reconciliation means the life-communion of the race. But, if God made the atonement, it might seem that the result and effect of this atonement could only be reached gradually by the attuning of individual men to God. It would seem to destroy the totality of the race, or (to employ another word even more useful) the solidarity of the race. That would seem to be the effect; and it is such a serious effect, for this reason: that it affects the universality of Christ’s work. Whatever affects the universality of Christ’s work cuts the ground from under aggressive Christianity, from under missions, whether at home or abroad. They cannot thrive except upon a faith which means the universality of Christ’s work, which means again the solidarity, the organic unity, of the whole human race. And the conversion of a race is a work that exceeds conversion and is redemption. About that the Old Testament and the New Testament are at one.