Religious Reality
By A.E.J. Rawlinson

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Public Domain Books

Chapter VI - Sin and Redemption

The Gospel affirms that men are called to be sons of GOD; to be perfect, as the heavenly Father is perfect. The correlative of this ideal view of man as he is meant to be is a sombre view of man as he actually is. “If we say that we have no sin we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” “All have sinned, and come short of the glory of GOD.”

Sin is essentially a falling short, a missing of the mark, a failure to correspond with the purpose and the will of GOD. It need not necessarily involve–though of course it does in many instances involve–the deliberate transgression of a moral law which the conscience of the individual sinner recognizes as such. There are sins of omission as well as of commission, sins of ignorance as well as of deliberate intent. The fact that the conscience of a given individual does not accuse him, that he is not aware of himself as a sinner before GOD, is no evidence of his moral perfection, but rather the reverse. Jesus Christ, who possessed the surest as well as the sanest moral judgment the world has ever known, held deliberately that the open and acknowledged sinner, just because he was aware of his condition, was in a more hopeful spiritual state than the man who through ignorance of his own shortcomings believed himself to be righteous. The Pharisee, who compared himself with others to his own advantage, was condemned in the sight of GOD. The Publican, who would not so much as lift up his eyes unto heaven, but judging himself and his deeds by the standard of GOD’S holiness acknowledged himself a sinner, went away justified rather than the other. It is probably true that the ordinary man to-day is not worrying about his sins: but if so, the fact proves nothing except the secularity of his ideals and the shallowness of his sense of spiritual issues. It means, in short, that he has not taken seriously the standard of Christ. For the measure of a man’s sin is simply the measure of the contrast between his character and the character of Christ.

It is likely enough that many of us will never discover that we are sinners until we have deliberately tried and failed to follow Christ. The moment we do try seriously to follow Him, we become conscious of the presence within ourselves of “that horrid impediment which the Churches call sin.” We discover that we are spiritually impotent: that there is that in us which is both selfish and self-complacent: that there is a “law of sin in our members” which is in conflict with the “law of the Spirit of life”: and that “we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves.” We are at the mercy of our own character, which has been wrongly moulded and formed amiss by the sins and follies, the self-indulgences and the moral slackness of our own past behaviour. We are, indeed, “tied and bound by the chain of our sins.”

To have realized so much is to have reached the necessary starting- point of any fruitful consideration of the Christian Gospel of redemption. The appeal of the Cross of Christ is to the human consciousness of sin; and the first effect of a true appreciation of the meaning of the Cross is to deepen in us the realization of what sin really is. The crucifixion of Christ was not the result of any peculiarly unexampled wickedness on the part of individuals. It was simply the natural and inevitable result of the moral collision between His ideals and those of society at large. The chief actors in the drama were men of like passions with ourselves, who were actuated by very ordinary human motives. It is indeed easy for men to say, “If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets”: but in so saying they are merely being witnesses unto themselves that they are the children of them which killed the prophets. Are we indeed so far removed beyond the reach of the moral weakness which yields against its own better judgment to the clamorous demands of public opinion, as to be in a position to cast stones at Pilate? Are we so exempt from the temptation to turn a dishonest penny, or to throw over a friend who has disappointed us, as to recognize no echo of ourselves in Judas? Have we never with the Sanhedrin allowed vested interests to warp our judgment, or resented a too searching criticism of our own character and proceedings, or sophisticated our consciences into a belief that we were offering GOD service when as a matter of fact we were merely giving expression to the religious and social prejudices of our class? Have we never, like the crowds who joined in the hue- and-cry, followed a multitude to do evil? There appears in the midst of a society of ordinary, average men–men such as ourselves–a Man ideally good: and He is put to death as a blasphemer. That is the awful tragedy of the Crucifixion. What does it mean? It means that a new and lurid light is thrown upon the ordinary impulses of our mind. It means that we see sin to be exceeding sinful. That is the first salutary fruit of a resolute contemplation of the Cross.

The Cross shows us, in a word, what we are doing when we sin: consciously or unconsciously, we are crucifying that which is good. If we are able to go further, and by faith to discover in the character and bearing of the Son, crucified upon the Cross, the revelation of the heart of the Eternal Father, there dawns upon our minds a still more startling truth: consciously or unconsciously, we are crucifying GOD. Assuming, that is to say, that GOD is such as Christianity declares Him to be, holy, righteous, ideal and perfect Love, caring intensely for every one of His creatures and having a plan and a purpose for each one, then every failure of ours to correspond with the purpose of His love, every falling short of His ideal for us, every acknowledged slackness and moral failure in our lives, much more every wilful and deliberate transgression of the moral law, is simply the addition of yet a further stab to the wounds wherewith Love is wounded in the house of His friends. “Father, forgive them; they know not what they do"–the words of the Crucified are the revelation of what is in fact the eternal attitude of GOD: they are the expression of a love that is wounded, cut to the heart and crucified, by the lovelessness, the ingratitude, the tragedy of human sin, but which nevertheless, in spite of the pain, is willing to forgive.

But the Cross is no mere passivity. It is more than simply a revelation of Divine suffering, of the eternal patience of the love of GOD. It is the expression of GOD in action: a deed of Divine self- sacrifice: a voluntary taking upon Himself by man’s Eternal Lover of the burden of man’s misery and sin. There is a profound truth in the saying of S. Paul, that the Son of GOD “loved me, and gave Himself for me”: as also in S. Peter’s words about the Christ “who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the Tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness.” There is no need to import into the phrases of the New Testament writers the crude transactional notions of later theology, no need to drag in ideas about penalties and punishments. The sole and sufficient penalty of sin is simply the state of being a sinner [Footnote: Sin, of course, may involve consequences, and the consequences may be both irrevocable and bitter; nor is it denied that fear of consequences may operate as a deterrent from certain kinds of sin. What is denied is that such consequences are rightly to be described as “punishment."]: and the conception of vicarious “punishment” is not merely immoral, but unintelligible. Vicarious suffering, indeed, there is: an enormous proportion of the sufferings of mankind–and the sufferings of Christ are a conspicuous case in point–arise directly as the result of others’ sin and may be willingly borne for others’ sake. And Christ died because of His love for men, and as the expression of the love of GOD for men. He who “wholly like to us was made “sounded the ultimate depths of the bitterest experience to which sin can lead, even the experience of being forsaken of GOD.” So GOD loved the world.”

Regarded thus, the Cross is at once a potent instrument for bringing men to repentance, and also the proclamation of the free and royal forgiveness of men’s sins by the heavenly Father. “What the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, GOD sending His own Son, in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.”

Forgiveness must be received on the basis of repentance and confession as the free and unmerited gift of GOD in Christ: but the redemption which Christ came to bring to men does not stop short at the bare gift of initial forgiveness. The Cross cannot rightly be separated from the Resurrection, nor the Resurrection from the bestowal of the Spirit. The forgiveness of past transgressions carries with it also the gift of a new life in Christ and the power of the indwelling Spirit to transform and purify the heart. And this is a life-long process–a process, indeed, which extends beyond the limits of this present life. The old Adam dies hard, and the victory of the spirit over the flesh is not lightly won. In the life-story of every Christian there are repeated falls: there is need of a fresh gift of forgiveness ever renewed. It is only over stepping-stones of their dead selves that men are enabled to rise to higher things. But already in principle the victory is won. “In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us.” We see in Christ the first-fruits of redeemed humanity, the one perfect response on the side of man to the love of GOD. And through Christ, our Representative, self-offered to the Father on our behalf, we are bold to have access with confidence unto the throne of GOD and in Him to offer ourselves, that so we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.


Preface  •  Author’s Preface  •  Introduction  •  Part I - The Theory of the Christian Religion: Chapter I - the Man Christ Jesus  •  Chapter II - The Revelation of the Father  •  Chapter III - The Fellowship of the Spirit  •  Chapter IV - The Holy Trinity  •  Chapter V - The Problem of Evil  •  Chapter VI - Sin and Redemption  •  Chapter VII - The Church and Her Mission in the World  •  Chapter VIII - Protestant and Catholic  •  Chapter IX - Sacraments  •  Chapter X - The Last Things  •  Chapter XI - Clergy and Laity  •  Chapter XII - The Bible  •  Part II - The Practice of the Christian Religion: Chapter I - The Christian Aim  •  Chapter II - The Way of the World  •  Chapter III - The Spirit and the Flesh  •  Chapter IV - The Works of the Devil  •  Chapter V - The Kingdom of God  •  Chapter VI - Christianity and Commerce  •  Chapter VII - Christianity and Industry  •  Chapter VIII - Christianity and Politics  •  Chapter IX - Christianity and War  •  Chapter X - Love, Courtship, and Marriage  •  Part III - The Maintenance of the Christian Life: Chapter I - How to Begin  •  Chapter II - Prayer  •  Chapter III - Self-Examination and Repentance  •  Chapter IV - Corporate Worship and Communion  •  Chapter V - The Devotional Use of the Bible  •  Chapter VI - Almsgiving and Fasting

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Religious Reality
By A. E. J. Rawlinson
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