Essay / Theology

HCG Moule on Atonement

moule outlines

Here are a few more selections from the interesting little one-volume theology, Outlines of Christian Doctrine by H.C.G. Moule.

When he begins discussing atonement, Moule quotes, without naming, some earlier thinker:

It has been well said that Creation, relatively to God, is little, ‘a very little thing,’ but that Sin is not. Sin –shall we dare to say it?– is the one formidable fact, the one difficulty, before God. Its pardon, with Him, is anything but ‘a very little thing.’ (p. 80)

The contrast –creation small, sin big– is interesting. One of the things Moule is getting at is that the death of Christ, that monumental divine-human event, was ordered toward addressing the sin problem. “The immediate necessary purpose of the blessed Death,” says Moule,

was propitiatory, expiatory; not the moral suasion of man, nor even the procurement for man of new spiritual power, but expiation as towards God. It was the sine qua non, under a divine plan, in order to lodge in the Sufferer, being Man, being the Second Man, a Merit, such as divine Holiness, without which God would not be God, should recognize as capable of more than balancing the demerit, the guilt, of sin. In the recognition of that guilt in its mysterious greatness lies some approach to a solution of the mystery of such an Atonement. There, certainly, lies the true secret of sympathy and submission as regards the fact of it. (p. 80)

Christ takes a position beneath the law, which, considering the plight of humanity, means that he takes a position beneath the death-sentence of the law. “He does not only suffer, or only sacrifice self, or only go all lengths in sympathy with the demands of the Law; He presents Himself to be ‘made sin,’ to be ‘made a curse,’ to be the Antitype of the sin-offerings of the Altar.” (p. 81)

For this reason, when 1 John 2:2 says “he is the propitiation for our sins,” Moule draws out the fact that it says “He, not it; the Sufferer, rather than the death. The Doer gives its absolute and eternal merit to the Work.” (p. 82)

Isn’t all of this a bit too deathy? What about the life of Jesus Christ, and its saving power? Moule moots the question, contemporary in his time, “Is our Lord’s Life a constituent, with His Death, in the Atonement?” His answer is firm: “In some very important respects, it is not. In Scripture everywhere the death stands in a position distinctive and apart, as the Sacrifice.” But there is more to say than just that flat no:

On the other hand, the connexion of the life with the death is deep and necessary. The life was a necessary qualification for the death, not only as manifesting Christ’s absolute worthiness, but as making it, in the sphere of His holy manhood. If, per impossibile, He could have gone to Calvary having lived an imperfect life, He would not have been the all-worthy Sacrifice. His life had to do with His being all-worthy. But it did not, in whole or part, constitute the Sacrifice. (pp. 83-84)

Even if you force them to admit that death plays this role in atonement, some people find the deathiness and bloodiness too much. So they try to transform “blood” into a symbol of life rather than of death. Moule is concerned about “some expositors” who distinguish between the life of Christ and the death of Christ, and try to use the word “blood” to signify the former rather than the latter. The argument apparently proceeds by

maintaining that the ideas of blood and Life are deeply connected in Scripture, and inferring that the blood-shedding of the Redeemer has to do less with propitiation, by the immolation of life forfeited, than with vivification, by surrender to God and impartation to man of life strengthening.

Moule identifies this as a hijacking of biblical language: it would make “cleansed by blood” mean something like “to be morally purified by the inflow of the surrendered, and now infused, life of the risen Christ.” Even the language of John 6 about “drinking the blood of the Son of Man” would mean “to imbibe the powers of His risen life.”

But that can never be the meaning of “blood.”

In scripture, “blood” means death, not life. The life is in the blood in a double-negative sense: no blood, no life. Therefore life blood. “Where ‘blood’ denotes not the current in the veins but the stream poured from them, the suggested idea is by no means life surrendered for service, or transfused for another’s invigoration. Blood shed is not a vehicle of power, but an evidence of death… (p. 85)



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