Saturday, May 13, 2006

Declaring the Death of Christ: James Denney. XI.

James Denney was fully committed to a Substitutionary view of the atonement. When he was writing, in the period when the nineteenth century was merging into the twentieth, it was becoming popular to represent the atonement as something else, as simply a declaration of God's love for man.

Denney's response to this view is well known, but it bears repeating in its wider context:

"There is something irrational in saying that the death of Christ is a great proof of love to the sinful, unless there is shown at the same time a rational connection between that death and the responsibilities which sin involves, and the responsibilities which sin involves, and from which that death delivers. Perhaps one should beg pardon for using so simple an illustration, but the point is a vital one, and it is necessary to be clear. If I were sitting on the end of a pier, on a summer day, enjoying the sunshine and the air, and some one came along and jumped into the water and got drowned 'to prove his love for me,' I should find it quite unintelligible. I might be much in need of love, but an act in no rational relation to any of my necessities could not prove it. But if I had fallen over the pier and were drowning, and some one sprang into the water, and at the cost of making my peril, or what but for him would be my fate, his own, saved me from death, then I should say, 'Greater love hath no man than this.' I should say it intelligibly, because there would be an intellibible relation between the sacrifice which love made and the necessity from which it redeemed. Is it making any rash assumption to say that there must be such an intelligible relation between the death of Christ - the great act in which His love to sinners is demonstrated - and the sin of the world for which in His blood He is the propitiation? I do not think so. Nor have I yet seen any intelligible relation established between them, except that which is the key to the whole of New Testament teaching, and which bids us say, as we look at the Cross, He bore our sins, He died our death. It is so His love constrains us."

The Death of Christ (fifth edition, London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1905) Pages 176-178



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