The Atonement in Evangelical and Liberal Thought: VI

The two natures doctrine denied

     Symptomatic of false modern thinking illustrated by Oliver’s criticism of Huntington in the previous issue, is that it fails to view (or rather ignores) the doctrine of the two natures in the Christian life which is part and parcel of the Biblical doctrine of imputation. Man under the federal headship of Adam, whether elect or not, experiences corruption in his own body from which he will only be released at death. Fallen Adam was of the elect but he had to remain in his mortal body, the flesh, with all its potentialities to sin until released from that body by death. All those, however, who are placed under the federal Headship of Christ, receive in the new birth a sinless righteousness which is not their own and which is the surety of eternal life. Obviously then, a believer, though living under the burden of Adam’s imputed sin and his own flesh, also lives in the blessings of Christ’s imputed righteousness at the same time. The war between flesh and Spirit will continue until our corrupt nature in Adam dies and we are fitted out with a new resurrection body which is incapable of sin as is our new spiritual life in Christ. This war is not that we should pretend that the old corrupt man of sin is no longer there, nor is it to try to convert the body of flesh into a spiritual being. Experience and the Scriptures show the folly of the former and the story of the fall shows that it is too late for the latter. Our personal warfare is so to live in Christ and for Christ that the old man is truly subdued and mortified.

     In Fullerite Grotianism there is a fundamental lack of teaching concerning the practical outworking of the indwelling of Christ in the believer. In other words, it has no solid teaching on sanctification. This is because it neither holds to the doctrine of man being fallen in the first Adam nor the doctrine of man’s becoming a new creature in the second Adam, Christ. Man is ever in an in-between state of neither being in Adam nor in Christ. He is not in Adam because his natural abilities are not fallen. Nor is he, strictly speaking, in Christ because Christ’s influence is allegedly not exercised through indwelling him but rather by providing an external moral deterrent to frighten him into God’s arms. There is thus no two-natures doctrine in Governmentalism whereby the old man remains in conflict with the new man until death frees the believer from the relics of sin and the flesh which have burdened him all his life and are part of his lot for being in Adam and inheriting a corrupt nature. Once this Pauline doctrine is abandoned, it is far easier for Grotianism to find refuge in human rationalism, metaphorical views of salvation and man-centred, Neonomian ideas of progressive sanctification. Since the revival of the Reformed faith in the late fifties and early sixties, the doctrines of grace, in particular the relevance of the atonement to the believer’s standing in Christ as a new creature, have been eased out of much evangelical Reformed teaching. Symptomatic of this downgrading was Issue 92 of the Banner of Truth magazine which contained an anti-Pauline article by Donald MacLeod entitled Paul’s Use of the Term ‘The Old Man.’

Donald MacLeod and the decease of the old man

     In this issue Prof. MacLeod argues that the atonement effects a total annihilation of the old man at conversion.  In order to present this theory, MacLeod not only retranslates the Greek text but also reconstructs it. Criticising James Frazer of Alness who believed what every Christian experiences, i.e. that ‘the old man, sin, and lusts thereof do remain in the believer,’ MacLeod disagrees, arguing that the old man has been put away once and for all and is now non-existent. MacLeod bases this on Colossians 3:9 ‘Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds.’ He argues that the verb ‘to put off’, in the original, refers to a finished action in the past with its effects still present. If this were so, one would think that there would be no point in telling believers not to lie as only positive effects – the new man – remain. Leaving aside the glaring errors in Greek grammar Macleod makes in arguing this way, the root meaning of the word translated ‘to put off’ is ‘to renounce’. The Greek makes it clear, as also the A.V., that Paul is exhorting believers to renounce the old man continually so that they will not fall into sin. MacLeod, however, refers to verse 3 ‘For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God,’ to back up his theory. Here, however, Paul is obviously not teaching that the old man in the believer is extinct because he goes on to say in verse 5 ‘Mortify your members which are upon the earth.’ One cannot mortify that which does not exist; and surely MacLeod does not think we should mortify the new man to be rid of sin !

The need to quote full Bible passages in context

     A look at the full context of MacLeod’s quote which reads,

‘But now ye also put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth. Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds,’

shows up MacLeod’s error. Paul tells us that anger, wrath, malice etc. are deeds of the old man which believers in Christ, are to put off. If the old man no longer exists, then his attributes no longer exist. These attributes are sadly present in Christians and a denial of the old man’s presence in this way would show an adherence to a view of Christian sinlessness which is quite foreign to the Bible. Paul is obviously exhorting Christians to keep from the ways of the old man and thus keep from sinning.

MacLeod claims repeatedly that the Bible is wrongly translated

     MacLeod, however, now brings forward Romans 6:6, ‘Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.’ Again MacLeod criticises the A.V. and the Greek text, taking everything from the present situation of the believer’s struggle with the flesh and placing it in the past. The whole gist of the sentence is that our present state (not a gone-by state) should dictate our continuous action so that the body of sin might (subjunctive mood) be destroyed. MacLeod says that Romans 6:6 refers “not to a process but to an accomplished fact.” This is coming very near to the Governmental doctrine that conversion means Adamic restoration, i.e. a making good of what was lost in Adam so that Christians are restored Adams. They are like Adam in his innocence. If this were true, Christians would not experience the marks of the fall. If the old man i.e. fallen Adam in them, were truly abolished, the born-again believer would not experience all the moral and physical signs of the fall, including infirmity, old age and death.

Throwing out the old man but keeping his deeds

     MacLeod now turns to Ephesians 4:22-24,

‘That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; and be renewed in the spirit of your mind; and that you put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.’

Again he calls for a new translation, claiming that it would be ‘hazardous’ to follow the AV or the RSV, which see  this passage as a command or exhortation, as it would contradict other Scripture. What MacLeod means is that it would contradict his other translations of Scripture. He thus sums up, “It is incorrect, therefore, to speak of the old man as remaining in the believer. The old man has been put off, crucified, destroyed.”

     Paul refers to putting off the old man with his deeds in Colossians 3:9, but now MacLeod argues inconsistently that the old man is gone but his deeds remain. Surely, according to the Scriptures, the one belongs to the other. If the old man is annihilated, so are his deeds. If his deeds remain, the old man must be there, too, though his power to keep a soul from Christ has been removed. This is made clear in Colossians 3:8 which MacLeod has so unskilfully circumnavigated with no little damage to his argument. Now MacLeod presents us with a Christian who has rid himself of the old man but the new man in Christ Jesus has taken over the old man’s lusts of the flesh. He is thus in a worse position than ever as now not only the old man but the new man is corrupt. MacLeod seems to be conscious of this quite novel position, but tells us that if we do not agree with him, we are Antinomians. One might argue on firmer evidence, that MacLeod is the Antinomian. He says that the culprit to blame for our sins has gone but we stick to his transgressions!

What ever happened to the Christian’s sin?

     Dealing with the new man who has, strangely enough, all the characteristics of the old man, MacLeod’s tone suddenly changes. There is no more talk of sin’s presence in the believer in his life of holiness and sanctification. This new man, MacLeod argues, correctly enough, has been transformed by Christ, is hidden with Christ in God and lives a life of elevation, purity and power. It is the life of God in the soul of man, “It is the river of His irresistible grace coursing in sovereign and efficacious majesty through the Christian heart and making glad the city of God.” He then goes on to talk about union in Christ which means Christ indwelling the believer. In other words, MacLeod, after telling us that the new man has retained the sins of the old man, portrays, quite contrarily, a man who must be fully sanctified as his soul contains the life of God and his life is also Christ’s dwelling place, full of irresistible grace in its efficacious majesty. This is truly an excellent description of the new man. But where is the sinful self in the spotless saint?  How can man be both truly sinful and truly sanctified at the same time in spite of not having two natures? This question is never answered as MacLeod quite forgets his topic! He argues that the first theological implication of Paul’s teaching regarding the annihilation of the old man is that the Christian lives a life of sanctification. This entails being justified, having our condemnation lifted, being separated from the dominion of sin and being consecrated in Jehovah. MacLeod continues, 

“The consecration implicit in effectual calling constitutes a radical and irreversible breach with sin; and it is from this base of definite sanctification  that we advance to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling.”

     This may be all very well, but still the presence of sin in the saint is not explained. We have grown wary by now and are not a little suspicious of MacLeod’s doctrine of sanctification. The latter half-quote concerning working out our salvation seems to indicate that all MacLeod is saying is that God has done His bit, so we must now do ours. The important key to the text is the part left out, ‘For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure, (Philippians 2:13). Here we see that God is sovereign in the life of the new man whom he activates savingly but we still do not see what role sin could possibly play here.

MacLeod does not answer the questions raised by his theory

     Is MacLeod actually saying that the conditions of holiness are conversion first, bringing in a basic kind of sanctification, and sincere obedience afterwards in keeping with Neonomian terms of a deeper sanctification? It seems so as he ends his article by arguing that Paul’s taught a basic definite sanctification which leads on to a life of efficacious or irresistible sanctification for the Christian . Yet, without explaining the struggle which still must go on in the Christians life, MacLeod goes on to argue Scripturally that God not only calls the saints but He also justifies and glorifies them. Here MacLeod touches on one of the most beautiful truths here in the Bible but in spite of his finishing his article on this note of triumph, we cannot so very well join in his jubilation as he has left us in the lurch. He has told us that the old nature has gone but the old sin remains in the new man but he develops the doctrine of the new man by ignoring the sin that allegedly still besets him. He speaks of the future sanctification of believers as if no sin were present. At least he must admit that the two natures teaching of traditional Christianity has the advantage of explaining the presence of the old and new man, the old Adam and new Adam, the sinful flesh and the sinless spirit in the saved sinner, ‘which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness’. MacLeod must also see that if he rejects one doctrine and does not replace it with another, or at least shows how his new doctrine meets the old problems better, he owes his readers an explanation before they can begin to take him seriously. We agree with MacLeod concerning the glories of the risen Christ in the believer but we wish to know how to deal with the sin that wars in our mortal body. This is where the practical, experimental religion of the Bible triumphs over dry, philosophical, speculative argumentation. Knowing one’s sinful self rather than pretending it is not there must be the first step in practical holiness.

      If we follow MacLeod’s re-interpretation, we do not have the Old Adam versus the New, the sinful self in conflict with the risen Lord indwelling us and representing us as spotless before God. Instead we have the Governmentalist idea of an Adam restored, of a new Old Man placed back in Adam before he broke his probation with sin bouncing off him because he is perfect. Christ however, does not make probationers of us but new creatures. God is so holy that he cannot accept a patched up old man, He accepts us in the Beloved, under Christ’s federal Headship and in union with Him, as sinless because Christ has carried our sins and guilt away. Besides, the Bible clearly teaches that the spiritual inheritance of spiritual men is vastly greater than the natural inheritance of natural Adam. The Banner of Truth constantly argues that their so-called Antinomians have a passive view of sanctification, meaning they emphasise God’s sovereignty over man’s agency. MacLeod’s view of sanctification, however is completely theoretical. God has pronounced His people justified and now they must work out their own salvation. It is all de jure and not de facto. There is no actuality about it, which MacLeod labours to emphasise by showing that in ridding himself of the old man, the new man has kept his sins.

Released from prison but still behind bars!

     Now MacLeod does express a belief in the indwelling Christ but where does he place him in the believer? He puts him in the nature where sin is still practised. This is a quite revolutionary idea as traditionally Christians have, with Paul, placed the deeds of the old man with the old man and have believed that Christ reigns supreme in the new man who is a completely new creature. Thus this new eternal man, sanctified by Christ and indwelt by the Spirit can say, “I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.” Yet MacLeod places Christ in an actively sinning new man, though he is supposed to be a new creation II Cor. 5:17, a member of the body of Christ (Ephesians 2:13-22) and recreated in the image of God (Col. 3:10). This is a most unorthodox thought, if not a blasphemous one. In thrusting out the old man, MacLeod has been of no use to anyone as the problems involved in his new theory must force those who accept it to take a completely de jure, pro-forma view of Christ’s indwelling the sinner as the de facto, practical outworking of Christ makes Him a co-worker with our sinful self, our body of death – an impossible thought for a Christian and quite contradictory to God’s Word. At best MacLeod can only interpret “Christ lives in me” as, “Christ has shown me the way, I will try to walk in it”. This is sub-standard Christianity at best.

A more valid approach

     The Word of God, however, shows that MacLeod’s theory of the old man must be wrong. Romans 7-8 portrays the great difference between the two natures and the enormous every day struggle, chastening and suffering that goes on in the life of Christian. There is what Paul here calls his flesh (7 v.18) or the body of death (v. 24) in which no good thing dwells and there is his inner man (7:22) which loves to do good. The body of death, alias the flesh, alias the natural body, alias the bondage of corruption (8:21) is condemned and the believer is longing for the time when it will be put off for ever when he receives the spiritual resurrection body (I Cor. 15:44). Until that time, man has two natures, the spirit of death and the spirit of life in him (Rom. 8:9-11). Until then, the Christian is to await patiently for the redemption of the body (8:23). All this throws no shadow on the new birth itself. MacLeod, by changing the imperatives, aorists, infinitives, subjunctives and participles of the Greek text  into his own pet grammar, denies the actuality of the old man and the struggles of the new man with him. He equates the supposed disappearance of the old man, with the once-and-for-all-time new birth of the elect. Renouncing the old man, however, is plainly the believer’s call until the resurrection morning. This is the work of sanctification. This emphasis on the definite act of regeneration with its permanent consequences is a speciality of John as witnessed by John 3:6,8; I John 2:29; 3:9; 4:7; 5:1,4,18.

Death in Adam and life in Christ

     MacLeod has neglected to bring his teaching concerning the old and new man into line with the Biblical teaching concerning the Old and New Adams. All men are seminally in Adam as his natural descendants and all men die in Adam. Believers who are therefore in Christ are also in Adam until their deaths. Though Christ is both man and God, he is not man in the sense that he is a partaker of Adam’s fall, and so Adam is not Christ’s head and representative as he is man’s. Adam failed his probation and those who are in Adam – all mankind –  are partakers of his failure. The Second Adam kept Adam’s probation in order to redeem us and His triumphs are imputed to all those for whom He suffered, died and lived a live of full obedience to God’s law. Christ, as the New Adam, has virtually created a new kind of man who is not of old Adam’s line. Christ takes up His abode in this new spiritual man whom He has made righteous. This new man does not sin and He is not part and parcel of our sinful body of flesh. This has very much to do with the doctrine of actual imputed righteousness and Christ’s active obedience. The Socinians, followed by many Neo-Evangelicals, deny that Christ’s righteous, obedience to the whole law can be actually imputed to us as they falsely argue that Christ, being in Adam, was Himself subject to the law and any obedience to the law was for His own sake and therefore could not be for ours. Christ, however, had no necessity to become a man and to place Himself under the law for His own sake. He is the Lord of the law and His divine character needs no justifying. The only reason Christ put Himself under the Law was as the representative of His people so that as man’s sin was imputed to Christ, so Christ’s fulfilment of the law could be put to our reckoning. As in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive. Alive, that is, de jure and de facto. The half-way salvation of modern Fullerites who deny with the Socinians that Christ obeyed the whole law for our sakes does not satisfy the Bible believer because this practical outworking of Christ in the new man does not come into consideration. They see Christ’s death as pardon and forgiveness only. But pardon and forgiveness do not transform men. Salvation is not merely non-imputation of sin. Christ would never have gained our salvation if He had merely took on himself our punishment. It is Christ’s blood and righteousness which saves. Christ’s obedience to the law in every respect was just as essential as His sacrificial death. In this way Christ could not only remove our past guilt, He could also remove our inability to carry on living a guiltless life by placing us under his own life of full obedience and righteousness. Our old man arises from Adam in us and thus we have become partakers of his nature. Our new man arises from what Christ is in us and He makes us partakers of His Divine nature. The old Adamic nature, however, will perish in the dust with our sin and shame when Christ, who has already clothed us in righteousness, clothes us in our new spiritual body. Only then will our old man, whom we have renounced, be exterminated.

     In the next issue, we shall look at the outworking of the atonement in reconciliation and pardon.