When R. C. Moberley spoke of the Incarnation as “the crucial doctrine” of Christianity, his adjective completely gave his case away. “Crucial” is from the Latin crux, “a cross.” So whenever we say, “This is the crucial point” or “The crux of the matter is this,” our language means “just as the Cross is central to Christianity, so the point I am making is central to the present discussion.” The centrality of the Cross to the Christian faith has shaped the language we use.

Right at the heart of Christianity there is a cross, and on that cross the Son of God wrought man’s salvation. Put simply, the atonement means that Jesus Christ in his death dealt completely with the problem that man’s sin had set. Whatever had to be done, He did it, and now those who come in faith may enter into full salvation. Throughout the centuries there have been many theories current in the Church as to how this was done, and none of them has been able to command universal acceptance. This leads us to the conclusion that there is an essential mystery about the atonement so that men cannot know completely how it works. But there are some points that the Bible makes very clear and any satisfactory understanding of the atonement must reckon with them.

The Love of God. The first point to notice is that the atonement proceeds from the loving heart of God. In the best known text in the whole Bible we read that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). With this, accord the words of Paul: “God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). This line of teaching could be traced through the whole of ...

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