Argument for The Necessity of The Atonement

Read also: “Does The Mercy of God remove The Necessity of The Atonement?”, “Does The Repentance of Man remove The Necessity of The Atonement?” and “Can Forgiveness of Sins ever be merited?” (by Gordon C. Olson).

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ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:

Short recording:

Long recording:

Text of the sort version:

‘An atonement is necessary because it is impossible for an offender by his future good conduct to repair the errors of the past, or to accumulate so much merit as to be a compensation or an offset for his former sins.

There can be no doubt that men often secretly rely on this. The case is similar to what would occur in a child who had been disobedient, and who hoped to make amends for his fault by his future good conduct; or of one who had a task assigned him and who had neglected it, and who hoped to make up for it by an additional amount of extra service; or of an officer in an army who had been cowardly or had neglected his duty, and who should endeavour to compensate for it by some extraordinary and uncommanded vigilance or deed of valour; or of a servant who had omitted to do what was required of him, and who expected by labour performed at hours when his service was not wanted to make up for his idleness or neglect. In these cases the idea would be that there would be such an accumulation of merit, or that there would be so much service performed beyond what was required, that it could be set over to the credit of the past, as if it had been performed then; that is, that as much service had been rendered on the whole as if there had been a faithful performance of duty at the time when it was required.

The question now is, not whether there may not be a case of this kind in regard to service demanded in the performance of a task, where the same amount of profit on the whole would accrue to the employer, but whether a compensation can be made in that way for crime. Can this be the ground of hope towards God?

In reference to this, the following remarks may be made:

(1.) It seems to be a clear principle that, in reference to morals, no man can do more than he is at present bound to do. We may indeed conceive that a servant who has a task assigned him for the day may have performed that task, and may still have unoccupied time in which he might render a service that was not specified in the contract, and which might, therefore, be set over to the account of a former deficiency, if such a deficiency had occurred from sickness or from any other cause. But no such case is conceivable in regard to morals. At no one time can any man be more honest, true, just, chaste, benevolent, than he ought to be at that time. At no one time can a child be more obedient to his father, can a husband be more faithful towards his wife, can a parent be more just in his dealings towards his children or strive more to promote their real welfare, than at that very time he ought to be. At no one time can a man love God more than he ought at that very time; for the command is binding on him at that supposed time in the same sense in which it has always been, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength.” (Mark xii. 30.) It is impossible, therefore, that in any such service there can be a work of supererogation, or that there can be a service rendered which is not demanded at that time and which can be set over to the credit of a past deficient account; or, in other words, that there can be any time not covered by the immediate command of God which can be employed in rendering a service that shall compensate for a former waste of time or for a former neglect of duty.

And as these remarks apply to men now, so they, for the same reason, apply to the men of all times, to the ‘saints’ of former generations as well as to the ‘saints’ now. If the supposed services of the ‘saints’ of other ages, in extraordinary fastings, prayers, pilgrimages, toils, labours, self-sacrifices, were meritorious at all, they were meritorious only as demanded by the law of God at that very time; for the law of God must always be the rule of that which is truly virtuous. It follows, therefore, that they could not at any time perform a service which was not demanded then and which could be set over to a deficiency of former merit in their own lives, or which could be garnered up to be made available, under the disbursing power of a priesthood, to supply the deficiency of men in future ages. The only Being who ever could place himself in such a position that his obedience to the law could be made available to supply the deficiencies of others is He who was not bound to obedience, from the fact that he was himself the lawgiver, and who could, therefore, so place himself in a condition of voluntary obedience that his merits could become available for others. This is the Christian idea of redemption; and in this respect the Christian scheme differs from all others in regard to a work of supererogation or of extraordinary merit.’

Source: Albert Barnes, The Atonement (1860), Chapter 6: Necessity of an Atonement, p. 202-205.

Text of the long version:

‘An atonement is necessary because it is impossible for an offender by his future good conduct to repair the errors of the past, or to accumulate so much merit as to be a compensation or an offset for his former sins.

There can be no doubt that men often secretly rely on this. The case is similar to what would occur in a child who had been disobedient, and who hoped to make amends for his fault by his future good conduct; or of one who had a task assigned him and who had neglected it, and who hoped to make up for it by an additional amount of extra service; or of an officer in an army who had been cowardly or had neglected his duty, and who should endeavour to compensate for it by some extraordinary and uncommanded vigilance or deed of valour; or of a servant who had omitted to do what was required of him, and who expected by labour performed at hours when his service was not wanted to make up for his idleness or neglect. In these cases the idea would be that there would be such an accumulation of merit, or that there would be so much service performed beyond what was required, that it could be set over to the credit of the past, as if it had been performed then; that is, that as much service had been rendered on the whole as if there had been a faithful performance of duty at the time when it was required.

The question now is, not whether there may not be a case of this kind in regard to service demanded in the performance of a task, where the same amount of profit on the whole would accrue to the employer, but whether a compensation can be made in that way for crime. Can this be the ground of hope towards God?

In reference to this, the following remarks may be made:

(1.) It seems to be a clear principle that, in reference to morals, no man can do more than he is at present bound to do. We may indeed conceive that a servant who has a task assigned him for the day may have performed that task, and may still have unoccupied time in which he might render a service that was not specified in the contract, and which might, therefore, be set over to the account of a former deficiency, if such a deficiency had occurred from sickness or from any other cause. But no such case is conceivable in regard to morals. At no one time can any man be more honest, true, just, chaste, benevolent, than he ought to be at that time. At no one time can a child be more obedient to his father, can a husband be more faithful towards his wife, can a parent be more just in his dealings towards his children or strive more to promote their real welfare, than at that very time he ought to be. At no one time can a man love God more than he ought at that very time; for the command is binding on him at that supposed time in the same sense in which it has always been, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength.” (Mark xii. 30.) It is impossible, therefore, that in any such service there can be a work of supererogation, or that there can be a service rendered which is not demanded at that time and which can be set over to the credit of a past deficient account; or, in other words, that there can be any time not covered by the immediate command of God which can be employed in rendering a service that shall compensate for a former waste of time or for a former neglect of duty.

And as these remarks apply to men now, so they, for the same reason, apply to the men of all times, to the ‘saints’ of former generations as well as to the ‘saints’ now. If the supposed services of the ‘saints’ of other ages, in extraordinary fastings, prayers, pilgrimages, toils, labours, self-sacrifices, were meritorious at all, they were meritorious only as demanded by the law of God at that very time; for the law of God must always be the rule of that which is truly virtuous. It follows, therefore, that they could not at any time perform a service which was not demanded then and which could be set over to a deficiency of former merit in their own lives, or which could be garnered up to be made available, under the disbursing power of a priesthood, to supply the deficiency of men in future ages. The only Being who ever could place himself in such a position that his obedience to the law could be made available to supply the deficiencies of others is He who was not bound to obedience, from the fact that he was himself the lawgiver, and who could, therefore, so place himself in a condition of voluntary obedience that his merits could become available for others. This is the Christian idea of redemption; and in this respect the Christian scheme differs from all others in regard to a work of supererogation or of extraordinary merit.

(2.) It is equally clear that any future obedience on the part of one who has violated law and who has incurred its penalty does not affect the past. The past is fixed and cannot be changed. All historical facts become unchangeable, and must remain just as they occurred forever. A crime may be forgiven or forgotten; but it cannot be changed. The individual who committed it may change, for he may become an eminently good and useful man; but that does not in the slightest degree modify the fact in regard to the crime. That remains just as it occurred, more enduring in the nature of things than any record of brass could make it than if it ‘were printed in a book, or graven with an iron pen and lead in the rock.’ The act of murder was committed. No future good conduct can obliterate or modify that fact. The slanderous words have been uttered. No future acts of kindness can change or modify that fact. The act of seduction has been perpetrated. There is no power in heaven or on earth that can make that cease to be an historical fact. There it is; and there it will remain forever. No amount of future good conduct can summon the murdered man from the grave, call back the slanderous words, restore innocence to the seduced, or obliterate the act of injustice, oppression, and fraud. The sin of Judas is fixed forever; the crimes of Tiberius, Nero, Alexander VI., Cæsar Borgia, Richard III., Philip II., and the Duke of Alva, are historical facts, never to be blotted out from the records of the universe.

(3.) In any case, even where there may seem to be a restitution or a compensation for the sins of the past, it is of a very partial and imperfect nature. A young man who is idle and dissipated may, indeed, by subsequent industry and virtue, do much to gain an elevated and honourable position in life, and may seem to make up for the follies of his early years. But it is seeming only. There are two things which he cannot do. (a.) He cannot, by any subsequent good conduct, change the fact that he was idle and dissipated. (b.) He cannot gain the position which he might have secured if he had not been idle and dissipated. There was nothing in that course of life which was in any way preparatory to subsequent elevation; and, whatever diligence he may manifest in future life, or whatever virtue he may possess, the time spent in idleness and dissipation was at least so much time absolutely lost in the sum-total of his existence. It contributed nothing to what he ultimately became; it took away much that might have contributed to place him on a higher elevation than he ultimately secured. He ‘fell off in the early part of the race;’ and no subsequent exertions can supply that deficiency, or put him as far on the ‘course’ as if he had not fallen back in the beginning. Perchance in a long life he can barely reach the point at which he might have begun actual life if his early years had been spent in the ways of industry and virtue.’

Source: Albert Barnes, The Atonement (1860), Chapter 6: Necessity of an Atonement, p. 202-206.

Read also: “Does The Mercy of God remove The Necessity of The Atonement?”, “Does The Repentance of Man remove The Necessity of The Atonement?” and “Can Forgiveness of Sins ever be merited?” (by Gordon C. Olson).

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10 thoughts on “Argument for The Necessity of The Atonement

    1. “If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love”
      – John 15:10a (KJV)

      “If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.”
      – John 15:6 (KJV)

      Repent of all your sins, sinner or face the terrible wrath of the Lamb, on the Day of Judgment!

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  1. I happen to know a 85-year old former Episcopalian bishop, a gentle but resolute man in all respects, who after a long and distinguished career which as yet has not come to a close, writing quite a few books on a broad variety of Christian topics for a wide audience, recently, based on an intensive five-year long study, “endeavored”—his own words—to write a book on the Fourth Gospel, which by the way my wife translated in Italian, and in which, as he acknowledged, he came to agree with many of the findings that other scholars have held for a long time, among which:
    – there is no way that John Zebedee wrote that Gospel nor any of the disciples of Jesus ;
    – in it there is probably not a single word attributed to Jesus that he actually uttered (maybe a bit too extreme but not that much) ;
    – in all probability not one of the signs recorded in the book actually happened.
    Now of course there is plenty of room to have different opinions on all of this and to disagree in a civil manner on facts and interpretations, but here is my point.

    In contrast to all this, to your young feverish mind to which I grant foolishness as the privilege of youth, everything is apparently unquestionably evident: “John 15 is clear”—your best wishes for me at the Day of Judgment being but a shameless expression of that cold hard light that governs your undeniable crystal clear truth. What your eyes read in John 15, intoxicated by arrogance disguised as faith, pops into your mind as a ready-made truth, easy to grab as a can on the shelve of a religious supermarket. Love? Sin? Punishment? Easy—John 15. Follow the formula and there you go, 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5 – truth, love, eternal life, all to your heart’s desires and the rest of the world straight to hell.

    You asked me where I got the idea from that you have not given much thought to what it means to follow love’s rules. As the Nazarene told the devout young man, asking him what he should do to inherit eternal life — “You are missing one thing”.

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  2. It’s funny that under the masquerade of humility, you argue from some “scholarship” that isn’t even worth refuting.

    You wrote: “in it there is probably not a single word attributed to Jesus that he actually uttered (maybe a bit too extreme but not that much) ;”

    So you, with your laughable arrogance, come here on my website, to claim that primary witnesses just never wrote any true words of Jesus and so on… Not even realising the many manuscripts we have, disproving that claim.

    This is your last warning. Unless you come to a truly civilized way of talking and you want to learn, then your comments will remain on this website.

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  3. Relax, don’t panic. You start by saying that one should love God with all he’s got but clearly you are not sure whether that includes one’s mind.

    The use of one’s intelligence goes beyond mere obedience, if only because when exercised without questioning the authority to which one submits, that hardly differs from slavelike behavior. Put simply, that’s where historical Biblical criticism, a well established tradition in Christianity, comes in.

    Why do you require absolute certainty and are you not content with a fragmentary though reasonably clear picture of who the Nazarene was and what he said? John 15 is clear on where that clarity lies. His followers are no longer called servants going by blind obedience, but friends who understand what they need to know by remaining in his love, his words and in the love for each other, fragmentary and tentatively all that may be.

    I may grant your youth the privilege of foolishness but not necessarily the comfort of ignorance. To declare Biblical criticism “not even worth refuting” puts one in a very lonely place, even when one is not alone to look for refuge there.

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    1. Please stop reading into what I said. I am 100 % for using your brains and loving God with all of your MIND. But this should include, after research and prayer, not being so foolish as not wanting to understand this simple truth of the converted soul:

      “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the Lord, and depart from evil.” – Proverbs 3:5-7 (KJV)

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