Theories of Atonement, Part I, A Call to Faith, Lesson 6, The Atonement, 4-5

The first of these theories is the so called “Satisfaction” theory advanced by a man named Anselm.

Anselm stressed the absolute necessity of the atonement by grounding it in the very nature of God. According to him, sin consists in man’s withholding from God the honor which is due God. By the sin of man, God was robbed of His honor, and it was necessary that this should be vindicated, which could be done by either punishment or by satisfaction.

The mercy of God promoted Him to seek vindication through satisfaction instead of punishment, and to seek satisfaction through the gift of His Son, which was the only way since an infinite satisfaction was required. Anselm said that since Christ was sinless and under no obligation to die, but since in the performance of His duty He did die, he brought infinite glory to God. This bringing of Glory to God earned a reward, but since Christ needed nothing for himself, the reward was passed on to sinners in the form of forgiveness. Anselm was the first Christian theologian to work out a doctrine of the atonement, and his theory at least pointed in the right direction.

Another theory of the Atonement is the so called “Moral Influence” theory.

This theory was advanced by a man named Abelard in opposition to Anselm’s theory. The fundamental idea here is that there is no principle of God’s nature which calls for satisfaction on the part of the sinner, and that the death of Christ should not be regarded as an expiration for sin.

Abelard holds that the Atonement was merely a manifestation of the love of God, suffering in and with His sinful creatures, and taking upon Himself their woes and griefs. This suffering of the Atonement did not serve to satisfy the divine justice, but served to reveal the divine love, so as to soften human hearts and lead them to repentance. This doctrine assures sinners that there is no obstacle on the part of God which would prevent Him from pardoning their sins. Not only can He pardon their sins without receiving satisfaction, but He is eager to do it.


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