But some one immediately asks, Is there then no objective atonement? It is a question worth deep attention. A great many people say Christianity wrecks chiefly on the idea of objective atonement. How cheap the objection is in many cases, how easy and common it is! If you find somebody who is making it his mission in life to pull to pieces the venerable theology of the Catholic Church, and show how poor a thing it is in the light of the thirty years in which he has lived, you will hear it put likely enough in such terms as these: that objective atonement is sheer paganism. The Christian idea of atonement is identified offhand with the pagan idea of atonement, as a Hyde Park lecturer might. And when you have done that at the outset, it is the simplest thing to show how false and absurd and pagan such theology is. It is said further, that the whole Church has become paganized in this way, and has spoken as though God could be mollified by something offered to Him. The criticism is sometimes ignorant, sometimes ungenerous, sometimes culpable. If such language has ever been held, it has only been by sections of the Church, sections that have gone wrong in the direction of unqualified extremes. You have extravagances, remember, even in rational heresy. Has the Church on the whole ever really forgotten that it is in the mercy of God that all our hopes begin and end? And even if the Church had gone further wrong than it has done about this, we do not live upon the Church, but upon the gospel and upon the Bible. We live in and through the Church. We cannot do without it. We must get back a great deal more respect for it. But we do not live on the Church; we live on the word of the gospel which is in the Bible.
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.