From Peter Forsyth, The Work Of Christ; Cf. The Work of Christ at Amazon
The point at which I broke off yesterday was this. I was pointing out that objective atonement is absolutely necessary. Of course, it is quite necessary also that we should know what is meant by an objective atonement. The real objective element in atonement is not that something was offered to God, but that God made the offering. And in this connection I hinted that my remarks today and tomorrow would have to follow the idea also, that God’s atonement initially was made on behalf of the race, and on behalf of individuals in so far as they were members of the race. The first charge upon Christ and His Cross was the reconciliation of the race, and of its individuals by implication.
We start today, then, from the position that God made the atonement. This (we saw) suggests a number of questions, not to say difficulties. If God made the atonement, but reconciliation meant no more than simply the moving and attuning of individual men in their subjective experience, it might seem as though it destroyed the solidarity of mankind and made it granular. And the peril there is that whatever destroys that, destroys the universality of Christ’s work. But that atomism is not the Gospel. To reduce the reconciliation merely to the aggregate of individual conversions would be a total misrepresentation of New Testament reconciliation, which is both solidary and final.
Then there is another difficulty. If we say that the one object of the atonement was not the reconciliation of God, but the reconciliation of man to God, then it looks as though the work of Christ became only the grand heliograph from divine heights, the chief word in what I might call a language of signs; as though it were only the leading expression of God’s will towards men, instead of something actually done, and not merely said or shown, by God, something really done from the depth of God Who is the action of the world, something eternally changing the whole situation, and destiny, and responsibility of our race. If God in Christ simply said the most powerful word about His goodwill, His placability, and His permanence of Christ – the depth of His work, and the height of His place. Thus God would be saying more than He did; and we have a natural and proper difficulty in thoroughly trusting people who say more than they do. If Christ were simply an expression of God’s love, then His Cross would simply be what is called an object-lesson of God’s love; or it would simply be a witness to the serious way in which God takes man’s sin; or it might even be nor more than the expression of the strong conviction of Jesus about it. We are exposed to the danger there always is when we make revelation a word rather than a deed, something said instead of something done, when we make it manifestation only and redemption. The work of Christ would be only something educational, or at most impressive. And what happens then? If the work of Christ is only impressively educational, if the need and value of it ceases when we have recognized its meaning, when we have taken God’s word for it in Christ that He does really love us, what happens then? Why, as soon as the lesson had been learnt, the work of Christ might be left behind. There are a great many people today who are Christian in a way, but have very loose ideas as to what is involved centrally in their Christianity. Many of them are in this position I describe – they think they can ignore Christ and the work of Christ since they have assimilated the lesson these taught. If the Cross is a kind of practical parable which God set forth of His love and His willingness to save, then when the parable has done its work it can be forgotten. When the lesson has been taught, the example can be put away into the school store-room until we want it again. It is exhausted for the time being, until somebody else comes who needs the same lesson. In that case the work of Christ simply sinks to the level of other valuable events in the history of religion. It is not fontal but episodic. It represents the transition from Judaism to a religion of Humanity. It represents a great movement in the history of religion, when religion ceased to be national and particularist, and became universal, when it ceased to be ritual and became spiritual. The death of Christ would thus be a great monument in the past, which fades out of sight as we surmount it and leave it behind; and it does not retain a permanent meaning and function at the center of our faith.
I said that the work of Christ meant not only an action on man, it meant an action on God. Yet I pointed out that it was more false than true to say that Christ and His death reconciled God to man. I said that we must in some way construe the matter as God reconciling Himself. It was out of the question to think of any reconciliation effected upon God by a third party standing between God and man. God could not be reconciled by man nor by one neither God nor man. The only alternative, therefore, is that God should reconcile Himself. But then is there not something in that which seems a little forced and unnatural? Did God have to compel Himself to change His feeling about us? Did He force Himself to be gracious? There is something wrong here surely, something that needs adjustment, explanation, restatement in some way.