Dear Dr. Matthews. I hope you will not think it impertinent for me to write you, but I have been an appreciative reader of your essays in the Telegraph ever since they first appeared, and though not always finding myself in agreement with them, I always like your honest and moderate line. In "Vicarious Punishment" yesterday, you suggested a view of The Atonement which might resolve what seems to many people today to be unjust and unreasonable and I take the liberty of offering a comment on this. It is most certainly true, as your first paragraph states, that Christ bore the due penalty of the sins of the whole world, and while it is agreed that the idea of vicarious punishment has entered deeply into Christian doctrine, I believe that this is the result rather of misunderstanding of the New Testament - especially of St. Paul - than of what is actually said on the subject. There has been a concentration of thought on the penal aspect deriving largely from Isaiah 53, rather than on the sacrificial, which goes back to the very beginning and of which Isaiah only develops a part - the suffering servant. I cannot see how it will ever be possible really to justify the doctrine of vicarious punishment, which is no more defensible as an edict of God than it would be in a judgment in our own courts of law. There must, however, be an explanation; and it must be one which does not conflict with absolute justice and the divinely established moral order to which you refer. I have been thinking on the subject for many years and have come to the conclusion that the key to the problem is LIFE - lost by sin and redeemed by one righteous act. It is not necessary, even if it were possible, to define life; we know it is a reality - something which a living soul possesses which distinguishes him from a dead thing and enables a congeries of physical organs to manifest mind and personality; it can be given and it can be taken away; it can be held as a legal right or it can be forfeited (as in a criminal under sentence of death). It appears evident that the possession of life and the relationship of its possessors to the Giver of Life, is the basis of all existence and therefore of religion itself. You will agree I think that Man is a corruptible creature with the same kind of physical nature and life spirit as the lower animals but being in the image of God means that he has freedom of choice of action and the capacity to reason and learn by experience. To develop character he needed to experience both good and evil, and for this purpose, in the person of Adam, man was placed under law. By disobedience he brought himself under sentence of death. This was the first lesson in religion - that sinners deserve to die. The second lesson was that God is merciful, because he was spared the judicial death he had incurred and allowed to live out his natural span with the hope of attaining to a better life. The rite of sacrifice introduced in Eden, indicated by the clothing with skins, and defined in the Law of Moses, calls for the exercise of that faith by which alone God is honoured. In making an offering in which the life of an animal was taken away violently, by bloodshedding, the sinner acknowledged himself guilty and worthy to die and signified his recognition of the fact that he could only be saved from the due penalty by the mercy of God. But animal sacrifices were only a temporary expedient and could not give effective deliverance because the life of an animal was not a true equivalent of the life of a man; they foreshadowed the sacrifice of Christ. Under law, the life which had been lost by sin could only be redeemed by a human life. No descendant of Adam could give his life as a ransom, as Jesus says He gives His, since the life of every natural-born man is a continuation of the life which was forfeited, and thus death, as a deferred penalty or debt, hangs over the human race - or perhaps I should say hung over the human race until it was removed by Christ. It seems evident, therefore, that man could only be saved from extinction by one whose life was not derived by natural descent, who was not a sinner, and who was prepared voluntarily to sacrifice himself. Jesus filled these requirements; as a child of Mary He was a man of flesh and blood, related to the race and of exactly the same corruptible nature, but as the Son of God, His life originated direct from the Source. In His temptations and physical suffering, Jesus proved that human nature of itself is not in any way defective, and showed by example that obedience to the commandments is in fact within the capacity of a normal human being. Conscience serves to convict us all as sinners personally, but in order that mercy might prevail and one redemptive sacrifice deliver a multitude of people from the reign of death, God has elected to regard all the children of Adam as having lost their life in his and become alienated with him. This appears to be a divine federal principle enabling many to be covered by one. When He allowed His murderers to impale Him upon the Cross, Jesus submitted to a penalty He did not deserve and a condemnation which was utterly unjust, in order to cancel, by the surrender of His own life, the debt owed by sinners. It seems abundantly clear that Jesus paid at Calvary the debt incurred in Eden. Had it been inflicted upon the sinner, he would have perished and the human race would never have been. Jesus, being without sin, was able to suffer the death and not perish, since God could not suffer His holy one to see corruption, and being raised from the grave in incorruptible spirit nature, He ascended to His Father where He acts as priest and mediator. Thus God provided in His own Son the one all-sufficient sacrifice for sin, a life for a life, and purchased back to Himself all those who become embodied in the Christ who were formerly alienated from Him by sin. As the heir of all things and God's representative on earth, carrying out His Father's plan for our salvation, Jesus voluntarily laid down His life as our substitute, thus upholding the divinely-established moral order and the absolutes of justice and righteousness, at the same time meeting the claims of supreme law and at the same time demonstrating supreme love and mercy. The view I have outlined cannot of course be squared with the belief that Jesus was the second person of the Trinity and essentially divine, but it recognizes that Jesus was the begotten Son of God and supplies an adequate reason why He should have been. An article you wrote a year or so ago under the title "Human and Divine" leads me to suppose that you, yourself, lean rather to this view of the nature and relationship of Jesus than to the traditional Church view. In a word, the Atonement is a matter, I think, not of the infliction of undeserved punishment on an innocent man; this is the outward appearance only. The reality underlying it is the voluntary payment of a debt by One who had the price - namely "life uncondemned," on behalf of those who were legally dead. I hope, dear Dr. Matthews, that I have not overstretched your patience and that what I have written may at least serve to show that you have readers who are not unappreciative.
Yours very sincerely, Ernest Brady.
Dr. Matthews' reply, dated 11th April 1960:
The Deanery, St. Paul's, London, E.C.4.
Dear Mr. Brady I have now had time to read your interesting letter, but unfortunately I have not time to write about it at length, as it certainly deserves. Perhaps I might say that I realize the difficulties about the conception of vicarious punishment and I don't suppose that my article finally disposed of them. I am interested in your emphasis upon the payment of a debt and that, of course, is an ancient idea and was developed in one form by St. Anselm. I am grateful to you for your interest in my articles and for your comments. The one doctrine of the Atonement which I feel is fundamental is that which was elaborated by the unfortunate Abelard, i.e., that the contemplation of Christ on the Cross moves us to repentance, though I admit that we need to go further than that if we seek for full understanding.
Your sincerely, W.R.Matthews.
* * * * * * *
A friend has forwarded a criticism (of my letter to the Dean) he has received from Edward H. Bath and points out that Mr. Bath speaks of it as "sheer blasphemy" and says he would like to have my reactions. I gladly comply. I am and I hope I always will be ready to consider anything which may be written on the subject we are most concerned with, namely the purpose and meaning of the sacrifice of Christ. In order that readers may be able to judge fairly between what Mr. Bath says and what I wrote to the Dean, I will here quote his criticism in full. It is as follows: - "A LIFE FOR A LIFE" In a welter of words in which E.Brady confuses, stultifies, and contradicts the word of God, he nevertheless admits that - "The doctrine of vicarious punishment is no more defensible as an edict of God than it would be in a judgment in our own courts of law," and yet he preaches "vicarious punishment" in saying - "God provided in His Son - a life for a life - as our substitute, thus upholding - the absolutes of justice and righteousness." He describes this as "SUPREME Law - demonstrating SUPREME love and mercy! Now he cannot have it both ways; either the law is "supreme" or love and mercy is "supreme." WHICH does he mean? E.B. says that "absolute justice" was demonstrated when God "spared (Adam) the judicial death he had incurred;" but "justice" defines that which "is due - agreeably to LAW," not according to mercy! By implication, he also teaches that the transference of this "Judicial penalty" from the guilty Adam to the sinless Jesus, was also a demonstration of "absolute justice" - HIS "due" and in accordance WITH LAW! Sheer blasphemy! Law was perverted, ignored, and dethroned by the "indefensible edict" under which Jesus was put to death, according to E.B. "instead of Adam;" whereas, "The Lord is long suffering and of great mercy (but) BY NO MEANS CLEARING the guilty - they shall not see the land" (Numbers 14:18.23) "to PUNISH THE JUST (however) is "NOT GOOD"! How then could God do this to Jesus? E.B. appears to teach that the death of Jesus, though "vicarious" was not a "punishment;" if that be so, then the "judicial death incurred by Adam, which obviously was a punishment, WAS NOT SUFFERED "IN HIS STEAD" BY JESUS ! To say that the death of Jesus was not a "punishment" because He died "voluntarily" is just to juggle with words; is a man who "voluntarily" goes to prison rather than pay a fine not punished? Did not Jesus "voluntarily" submit to his captors rather than ask for "12 legions of angels" to deliver him though he knew that by his "voluntary" submission he was choosing death, the "cup" from which he shrank and prayed His Father to "let it pass" from me? How could he do otherwise? He came to do GOD'S WILL, and being "delivered by the DETERMINATE counsel and foreknowledge of God" to his enemies "to do whatsoever THY HAND AND THY COUNSEL DETERMINED TO BE DONE," he died, not in the place of Adam, but that "THROUGH death he might DESTROY THE DIABOLOS?" and that was "THE ENMITY" or law of the flesh which BROUGHT FORTH SIN in Eden. Jesus thereby "ABOLISHED - the MOTIONS (i.e. impulses) OF SIN," that we "through faith IN HIS BLOOD (that his SHED blood thus" destroyed the diabolos), may have remission of sins." E.B. has much to say about "the sin of the world" as though this was the sin of Adam, whereas it is the common sin of mankind, viz: "We have turned everyone to his own way" and "walked according to the course of this world - in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the DESIRES OF THE FLESH AND OF THE MIND, and we were therefore by UNLAWFULLY GRATIFYING OUR "NATURE the children of wrath." E.B. quotes "a life for a life" as though Jesus was a criminal, for this was a principle of the Mosaic law under which the guilty killer was himself deprived of life. These words are entirely inapplicable to the sacrificial death of Jesus, for it is NOT "LIFE" BUT THE "BLOOD which maketh atonement for the soul." Moreover, there is no remission of sin "without THE SHEDDING OF BLOOD." Life defines the vitality or energy which is CARRIED BY THE blood to every organ and cell of the body, but it is not a part of the body - it is "the breath OF LIFE" which comes from God and returns to Him when the physical organs cease to function. Life is not subject to death, for death defines the failure of the body to retain life. The Nazarene community differentiates between a judicial or legal death and one from "natural" causes - Why? It is the ending of life in both cases, and makes no difference to the one who dies. The argument that Adam incurred a legal death and that Jesus died a legal death "in his stead," is contrary to the facts. Pilate found "no fault in him," he was thus declared to be LEGALLY INNOCENT; his death therefore in response to the clamour of the crowd, was contrary to law and ABSOLUTELY ILLEGAL! Death by popular clamour, or by SUBSTITUTION, is neither legal nor according to justice; it is a BLASPHEMOUS ASSUMPTION and a DISTORTION OF SCRIPTURE.
Edward H.Bath. April 1960 (All emphasis is that of the writer)
Ernest Brady's comments on the above: - First let me make a general comment on Mr Bath's article. All will agree that for a discussion to be profitable, both contestants must fairly and honestly deal with his opponent's case. It is little use to anyone to refute something which your opponent does not affirm and any advantage which either may gain by misrepresenting or misquoting the other is not really a victory for his argument. On the contrary, it indicates weakness. A good case will stand on its own merits and does not need to make use of misrepresentation. In any case, an honest debater would scorn to use such methods. This is my complaint against Mr Bath. In this, as in other papers, he has written professing to argue against the views we hold, he has deliberately and intentionally misquoted us and then answered this false version of what we have said. If this has given him any satisfaction, he is welcome to it; for my own part, if I had ever found it necessary to misquote, or misconstrue, or wilfully misunderstand either Mr. Bath or any other of the many who disagree with us, in order to uphold our own theory, I should have given up in shame. The strength and the satisfaction of understanding the truth is that one can honestly and frankly meet every argument against it and show how and why they fail. The first example of Mr Bath's strategy is where he writes:- "Now he cannot have it both ways, either the law is supreme or love and mercy is supreme, which does he mean?" If Mr Bath has read my letter to Dr. Matthews, he can scarcely be sincere in putting this question, for its chief aim was to show how wonderfully the sacrifices of Christ upholds both love and law. I am in no dilemma. I am under no obligation in my view of the Atonement to choose between justice and mercy, since properly understood it displays both, and this it was the purpose of my letter to demonstrate. This is the solution provided by God Himself for a problem which to Mr Bath is still insoluble. In my letter I wrote of Jesus as "carrying out His Father's plan... meeting the claims of supreme law and at the same time demonstrating supreme love and mercy." Mr Bath may not yet be able to see how the sacrifice of Christ succeeded in harmonising these two principles, but his inability does not justify him implying that I am self-contradictory. According to him we must choose between one or the other. Either God was just but unmerciful, or if He was merciful He must have been unjust. Mr Bath must forgive us if we decline to make the choice he insists upon and seeing that the very letter he is criticizing explains why, he could surely have used his pen to better effect on another subject. The wonder and the glory of the sacrifice of Christ is that in it God was both merciful and just. He "executed true judgment and showed mercy and compassion." Ezekiel 7:9. Mr. Bath, however, is not content to suggest that we appear to be in a dilemma which on a true understanding does not exist - he goes to the length of faking our actual words in order to make it appear to be a fact. He writes:- "E.B. says that absolute justice was demonstrated when God spared Adam the judicial death he had incurred." Not to mince words, this is a lie and we think that Mr. Bath knows it is. E.B. does not say this. E.B. has never said so. What I said is that mercy was shown when God spared Adam. Absolute justice - in Adam's case - would have required his death, but the law was met and justice upheld when Christ paid with His own life the debt which Adam owed. Here is exactly what 1 said in my letter on the point: - "The second lesson was that God is merciful, because he was spared the judicial death he had incurred and allowed to live out his natural span." and again later;- "he (Adam) could only be saved from the due penalty by the mercy of God." so that in order to make me look foolish, Mr Bath has taken the elements of my argument and transposed them. If the result gives him any satisfaction I must say it does not grieve me very sorely. The two things which are balanced in the scales of justice are the mercy which Adam received and the debt which Jesus paid on his account. To me this seems simple and understandable, but if Mr Bath finds it difficult, indeed blasphemous, it would have been better if he had said frankly where his difficulty lay and we might then have been able to progress, but since he has deliberately misquoted my argument by taking that aspect which belongs rightly to Jesus' act of obedience (upholding justice) and applied it to Adam's disobedience (which called forth mercy) he has only himself to blame for his present confusion. In spite of the fact that my letter to the Dean of St. Paul's was to explain why I regard the idea of vicarious punishment as mistaken, and even though he quotes my actual words where I wrote, "The doctrine of vicarious punishment is no more defensible as an edict of God than it would be in our own Courts of Law," Mr Bath has the temerity to say of me, "yet he preaches ‘vicarious punishment.'" I do not know what more I can do than write what I believe and it appears that the man to whom I wrote it took the point, but even that does not deter Mr Bath from telling me that I believe and preach the opposite. He may not be able to distinguish between Jesus' voluntarily giving up His life as the payment of Adam's debt and God punishing Jesus with death as well as Adam, though to me there is all the difference in the world, but he is surely a little unreasonable to insist that I am preaching the very doctrine I am contesting. Either he has not really read my letter, or he cares nothing for the logic and truth of what he writes. He says I appear to teach that the death of Jesus was not a punishment (I suppose I must be thankful that he admits I appear to teach it) but he argues if that be so, then Jesus did not suffer the death incurred by Adam, for that was a punishment. This is not a logical argument - the one thing does not follow the other. The same death would have been a punishment to Adam, had it been inflicted, because he was a sinner. It was not a punishment to Jesus because he had done nothing to deserve it and was not obliged to submit to it. His death, as such, was a suffering of pain and shedding of His blood exactly as it would have been in the case of a criminal, but it was not the infliction of the punishment upon Him instead of upon Adam. This was the view outlined by the Dean of St. Paul's in the Daily Telegraph, and the purpose of my letter was to explain that the view we of the Nazarene Fellowship hold of The Atonement offers an alternative to the idea that Jesus was punished by God instead of Adam. This is the Redemptive principle - the life of the race lost by sin and redeemed by obedience. - "The Son of Man came not to be ministered unto but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many." Mr Bath tumbles into it head over heels as soon as he starts to argue instead of making wild and unfounded charges. He writes that to say the death of Jesus was not a punishment because he died voluntarily "is just to juggle with words." We do not agree and we do not think many of our readers will either. It makes all the difference in the world that Jesus went to His death of His own free will. Granted, what He suffered was no less - it was probably more - that He was an undeserving sufferer would in no way diminish His anguish - rather the contrary. As the thief said, "We indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this man hath done nothing amiss." Mr Bath, however, asks: "Is a man who voluntarily goes to prison rather than pay a fine, not punished?" This is apparently his idea of a parallel! I reply, Of course such a man is punished. He has broken the law and whether it be a fine or imprisonment, he is paying the penalty of his crime. But if a friend comes along and pays his fine for him, is his friend punished for what the other did? No, he has, out of the goodness of his heart, paid his friend's debt and delivered him from the claims of the law, but he has not been punished instead. Out of his own wealth he has provided the price to save his friend. Jesus was our friend. He alone had the price with which to pay for our deliverance - "he was rich, but for our sakes he became poor" - that is to say, He had life in Himself, in His own right, but He laid it down for our ransom from the bondage of sin and death. On a true understanding of the Gospel of Salvation, this is what God did for Adam and for us who are descended from Adam He provided, by giving His own Son the life which was the redemption price for the right to life which was lost by Sin. Mr Bath rejects this view, as of course he is fully entitled to do if he finds it unsatisfactory. But the acid test of his position is to examine what he offers in its place. We know that he rejects the Christadelphian theory that Jesus was born in sin and that therefore His death was required for His own deliverance as well as for ours. What then is his own explanation of why a just, righteous, perfect, sinless Son of God was allowed by God - yes, even foreordained, to suffer the shameful and anguished death of a criminal? This is Mr Bath's explanation:- "he died, not in the place of Adam, but that "through death he might destroy the diabolos" and that was "the enmity" or law of the flesh which "brought forth sin" in Eden. Jesus thereby "abolished the motions (i.e. the impulses) of sin" that we "through faith in his blood (that his shed blood thus destroyed the diabolos) may have remission of sins." Now this statement is, of course, largely a selection of scriptural phrases threaded together with a word here and there interpolated to give them the application Mr Bath desires them to have. It is a time honoured method of appearing to put forward a scriptural explanation of a matter which one cannot - or dare not - put into one's own words. Christadelphians have used it extensively. Robert Roberts was a past-master and in recent years W.F.Barling has not been far behind. They think that if they can find a scriptural phrase and put it in quotation marks, no one will question its use. The method we have used, of taking such so-called "explanations" to pieces has been fairly successful in exposing it as a fraudulent process. Let us look at Mr Bath's explanation in this way. We know that he professes not to believe in Sin-in-the-flesh as Christadelphians do; nor does he believe that Jesus was sinful flesh. What then does he wish us to understand by his statement that the diabolos which was destroyed by His death was "the enmity, or law of the flesh which brought forth sin"? It is quite evident that the only flesh which was affected by the sacrifice of Jesus was His own flesh. If He had no sin in His flesh, if the diabolos was not in Jesus, if he was not born in Sin, how did His death destroy them? He says, "Jesus thereby abolished the impulses of sin." Where and how did the death of Jesus do this? Manifestly, His death did not abolish the impulses of sin in our flesh, because we still have them. And in his leaflet entitled, "Who Was Born In Sin?" Mr Bath recognizes that Jesus was without sin - the unblemished and perfect Lamb of God, so the impulses of sin cannot have been abolished in Jesus either - for they were not there. So his "explanation" is reduced to nothing! The fact of the matter is that he has learned from the literature of the Nazarene Fellowship that Sin-in-the-flesh is a foolish, God-dishonouring myth, and has seen the fallacy of believing in an unclean sacrifice, but he stumbles at accepting the true substitutionary significance of Christ's offering of Himself to God without spot and still hangs on to the old parrot phrases of Christadelphianism. Also in the leaflet just mentioned he wrote: "It is the carnal mind which is enmity against God." We can agree; although this is not what Paul referred to when he spoke of "the enmity" in Ephesians 2. This enmity was the legal constitution of mankind under the bondage of sin - another way of speaking of man's alienation from God. But - sticking to Mr Bath's point - if the carnal mind is the enmity against God, how did the death of Jesus destroy it? Did Jesus ever have this carnal mind? If not, how was it destroyed or abolished by His death? You see, as soon as we begin to take Mr Bath to pieces the flaws in his reasoning stick out like a sore thumb. He thinks he has abandoned the errors of Christadelphianism but here he is still mixing up man's legal position with his physical condition Just as if Edward Turney had never written a line. Presumably Mr Bath believes that the Diabolos exists in the minds of sinners, for he says, "Sin defines a moral, not a physical state," but as men are still immoral and the Diabolos very much alive, how are we to understand him when he tells us that Jesus destroyed the Diabolos by shedding His blood? If he does not believe that the Diabolos was in the mind or the blood of Jesus, we invite him in his next leaflet to tell us how it (the Diabolos) was destroyed by His shed blood as he tells us in the quotation above. It is one thing to string a few passages together but it is quite another to write down in plain language an explanation of what we mean by them. It sounds very well to say, "he abolished the motions (i.e. impulses) of sin" but I doubt if the phrase would convey anything at all to 99 people in 100. I have heard a budgerigar recite a nursery rhyme and give his name and address and I have no doubt that such a bird could learn to repeat Mr Bath's parrot-phrases, but it wouldn't be any use as an exposition of a man's faith. It is probable that Mr Bath does not realize - and possible does not care - that he has bundled together two separate and distinct texts (Romans 7:5 and Ephesians 2:15) and made them into one sentence which he thinks explains what Jesus accomplished by His death. We feel we ought to point out to him that to apply Roman 7:5 to Jesus is a contradiction of his own position. Jesus was never "in the flesh" in the sense in which the Apostle Paul writes. Whenever did the motions of sin work in Jesus Christ to bring forth fruit unto death? And the enmity (Ephesians 2:15) which Jesus abolished in (the sacrifice of) His flesh was that middle wall of partition of the previous verse even the law of commandments, that He might reconcile both unto God in one body by the Cross.
Ernest Brady.(May 1960)