The meaning of Redeemer; Redemption in the Bible
(From International Standard Bible Encyclopedia)
re-dem'-er, re-demp'-shun (paraq, "to tear loose," "to rescue," padhah, ga'al; agorazo, referring to purchase, lutroumai, from lutron, "a ransom"):
1. Gradual Moralizing of Idea of Redemption
2. Redemption as Life in Individual
3. Redemption as Social
4. Redemption as Process
5. Moral Implications in Scriptural Idea of Redeemer
6. Uniqueness of Son of God as Redeemer
The idea of redemption in the Old Testament takes its start from the thought of property (Leviticus 25:26; Ruth 4:4 ff.). Money is paid according to law to buy back something which must be delivered or rescued (Numbers 3:51; Nehemiah 5:8). From this start the word "redemption" throughout the Old Testament is used in the general sense of deliverance. God is the Redeemer of Israel in the sense that He is the Deliverer of Israel (Deuteronomy 9:26; II Samuel 7:23; I Chronicles 17:21; Isaiah 52:3). The idea of deliverance includes deliverance from all forms of evil lot, from national misfortune (Isaiah 52:9; Isaiah 63:9; compare Luke 2:38), or from plague (Psalms 78:35, Psalms 78:52), or from calamity of any sort (Genesis 48:16; Numbers 25:4, Numbers 25:9). Of course, the general thought of the relation of Israel to God was that God had both a claim upon Israel (Deuteronomy 15:15) and an obligation toward Israel (I Chronicles 17:21; Psalms 25:22). Israel belonged to Him, and it was by His own right that He could move into the life of Israel so as to redeem Israel. On the other hand, obligation was upon Him to redeem Israel.
In the New Testament the idea of redemption has more a suggestion of ransom. Men are held under the curse of the law (Galatians 3:13), or of sin itself (Romans 7:23 f.). The Redeemer purchases their deliverance by offering Himself as payment for their redemption (Ephesians 1:7; I Peter 1:18).
1. Gradual Moralizing of Idea of Redemption:
Throughout both the Old Testament and the New Testament there is to be observed a gradual moralizing of the meaning of redemption. The same process of moralizing has continued throughout all the Christian ages. Starting with the idea of redemption price, conceived almost in material terms, religious thought has advanced to conceptions entirely moral and spiritual. Through the Scriptures, too, the idea of redemption becomes more specffic with the progress of Christian revelation. In the beginning God is the Redeemer from distresses of all kinds. He redeems from calamity and from sorrows. This general idea, of course, persists throughout the revelation and enters largely into our thinking of today, but the growing moral discernment of the Biblical writers comes to attach more and more importance to sin as the chief disturber of man's welfare. We would not minimize the force of the Scriptural idea that God is the Deliverer from all misfortune to which man falls heir, but the Scriptural emphasis moves more and more to deliverance from sin. Paul states this deliverance as a deliverance from the law which brings sin out into expression, but we must not conceive his idea in any artificial fashion. He would have men delivered not only from the law, but also from the consequences of evil doing and from the spirit of evil itself (Romans 8:2).
2. Redemption as Life in the Individual:
In trying to discern the meaning of redemption from sin, toward which the entire progress of Biblical and Christian thought points, we may well keep in mind the Master's words that He came that men might have life and might have it more abundantly (John 10:10). The word "life" seems to be the final New Testament word as a statement of the purpose of Christ. God sent His Son to bring men to life. The word "life,"' however, is indefinite. Life means more at one period of the world's history than at another. It has the advantage, nevertheless, of always being entirely intelligible in its essential significance. Our aim must be to keep this essential significance in mind and at the same time to provide for an increasing fullness and enlargement of human capacity and endeavor. The aim of redemption can only be to bring men to the fullest use and enjoyment of their powers. This is really the conception implicit even in the earliest statements of redemption. The man redeemed by money payment comes out of the prison to the light of day, or he comes out of slavery into freedom, or he is restored to his home and friends. The man under the law is redeemed from the burden and curse of the law. Paul speaks of his experience under the law as the experience of one chained to a dead body (Romans 7:24). Of course, relief from such bondage would mean life. In the more spiritual passages of the New Testament, the evil in men's hearts is like a blight which paralyzes their higher activities (John 8:33-51).
In all redemption, as conceived of in Christian terms, there is a double element. There is first the deliverance as from a curse. Something binds a man or weights him down: redemption relieves him from this load. On the other hand, there is the positive movement of the soul thus relieved toward larger and fuller life. We have said that the Biblical emphasis is always upon deliverance from sin as the essential in redemption, but this deliverance is so essential that the life cannot progress in any of its normal activities until it is redeemed from evil. Accordingly in the Scriptural thought all manner of blessings follow deliverance. The man who seeks first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness finds all other things added unto him (Matthew 6:33). Material, intellectual and social blessings follow as matters of course from the redemption of the inner spirit from evil. The aim of redemption, to beget in men's hearts the will to do right, once fulfilled, leads men to seek successfully along all possible avenues for life. This, of course, does not mean that the redeemed life gives itself up to the cultivation of itself toward higher excellencies. It means that the redeemed life is delivered from every form of selfishness. In the unselfish seeking of life for others the redeemed life finds its own greatest achievement and happiness (Matthew 16:25).
3. Redemption as Social:
Just as the idea of redemption concerned itself chiefly with the inner spirit; so also it concerns itself with the individual as the object of redemption. But as the redemption of the inner spirit leads to freedom in all realms of life, so also the redemption of the individual leads to large social transformations. It is impossible to strike out of the Scriptures the idea of a redeemed humanity. But humanity is not conceived of in general or class terms. The object of redemption is not humanity, or mankind, or the masses. The object of redemption is rather men set in relation to each other as members of a family. But it would do violence to the Scriptural conception to conceive of the individual's relations in any narrow or restricted fashion (1Co. 12:12-27).
An important enlargement of the idea of redemption in our own time has come as men have conceived of the redemption of individuals in their social relationships. Very often men have thought of redemption as a snatching of individuals from the perils of a world in itself absolutely wicked. Even the material environment of men has at times been regarded as containing something inherently evil. The thought of redemption which seems most in line with Scriptural interpretation would seem to be that which brings the material and social forces within reach of individual wills. Paul speaks of the whole creation groaning and travailing in pain waiting for the revelation of the sons of God (Romans 8:22). This graphic figure sets before us the essentially Christian conception of the redemption of the forces in the midst of which men are placed. Those redeemed for the largest life, by the very force of their life, will seize all powers of this world to make them the servants of divine purposes. The seer saw a great multitude which no man could number, of every kindred and nation and tongue, shouting the joys of salvation (Revelation 7:9), yet the implication nowhere appears that these were redeemed in any other fashion than by surrendering themselves to the forces of righteousness.
4. Redemption as Process:
We have said that the aim of redemption is to bring men to the largest and fullest life. We have also said that "life" is a general term. To keep close to the Scriptural conceptions we would best say that the aim of redemption is to make men like Christ (Romans 8:9). Otherwise, it might be possible to use the word "life" so as to imply that the riotous exercise of the faculties is what we mean by redemption. The idea of redemption, as a matter of fact, has been thus interpreted in various times in the history of Christian thinking. Life has been looked upon as sheer quantitative exuberance—the lower pleasures of sense being reckoned as about on the same plane with the higher. We can see the moral and spiritual anarchy which would thus be brought about. In Christ's words to His disciples He once used the expression, "Ye are clean because of the word which I have spoken unto you" (John 15:3). In this particular context the idea does not seem to be that of an external washing. Christ seems rather to mean that His disciples are cleansed as a vineyard is cleansed by pruning away some of the branches that others may bear fruit. In other words, the redemption of life is to be interpreted so that stress is laid upon the qualitative rather than the quantitative. Christ indeed found place in His instructions and in His own life for the normal and healthy activities of human existence. He was not an ascetic; He went to feasts and to weddings, but His emphasis was always upon life conceived of in the highest terms. We can say then that the aim of redemption is to beget in men life like that in Christ.
5. Moral Implications in the Scriptural Idea of Redeemer:
Moreover, redemption must not be conceived of in such fashion as to do away with the need of response upon the part of the individual will. The literal suggestion of ransom has to do with paying a price for a man's deliverance, whether the man is willing to be delivered or not. Of course, the assumption in the mind of the Biblical writers was that any man in prison or in slavery or in sickness would be overjoyed at being redeemed; but in dealing with men whose lives are set toward sin we cannot always make this assumption. The dreadfulness of sin is largely in the love of sinning which sinning begets. Some thinkers have interpreted redemption to mean almost a seizing of men without regard to their own will. It is very easy to see how this conception arises. A man who himself hates sin may not stop to realize that some other men love sin. Redemption, to mean anything, must touch this inner attitude of will. We cannot then hold to any idea of redemption which brings men under a cleansing process without the assent of their own wills. If we keep ourselves alive to the growing moral discernment which moves through the Scriptures, we must lay stress always upon redemption as a moral process. Not only must we say that the aim of redemption is to make men like Christ, but we must say also that the method of redemption must be the method of Christ, the method of appealing to the moral will. There is no Scriptural warrant for the idea that men are redeemed by fiat. The most we can get from the words of Christ is a statement of the persistence of God in His search for the lost: '(He goeth) after that which is lost, until he finds it' (Luke 15:4). Some would interpret these words to mean that the process of redemption continues until every man is brought into the kingdom. We cannot, in the light of the New Testament, limit the redeeming love of God; but we cannot, on the other hand, take passages from figurative expressions in such sense as to limit the freedom of men. The redemption must be conceived of as respecting the moral choices of men. In our thought of the divine search for the control of inner human motive we must not stop short of the idea of men redeemed to the love of righteousness on its own account. This would do away with the plan of redeeming men by merely relieving them of the consequences of their sins. Out of a changed life, of course, there must come changed consequences. But the Scriptural teaching is that the emphasis in redemption is always moral, the turning to life because of what life is.
Having thus attempted to determine, at least in outline, the content of the Christian idea of redemption, it remains for us to point out some implications as to the work of the Redeemer. Throughout the entire teaching on redemption in the Scriptures, redemption is set before us primarily as God's own affair (John 3:16). God redeems His people; He redeems them out of love for them. But the love of God is not to be conceived of as mere indulgence, partiality, or good-humored affection. The love of God rests down upon moral foundations. Throughout the Scriptures, therefore, we find implied often, if not always clearly stated, the idea that God is under obligations to redeem His people. The progress of later thinking has expanded this implication with sureness of moral discernment. We have come to see the obligations of power. The more powerful the man the heavier his obligations in the discharge of this power. This is a genuinely Christian conception, and this Christian conception we apply to the character of God, feeling confident that we are in line with Scriptural teaching. Hence, we may put the obligations of God somewhat as follows: God is the most obligated being in the universe. If a man is under heavy obligations to use aright the power of controlling the forces already at work in the world, how much heavier must be the obligations on the Creator who started these forces! The obligation becomes appalling to our human thought when we think that creation includes the calling of human beings into existence and endowing them with the unsolicited boon of freedom. Men are not in the world of their own choice. Vast masses of them seem to be here as the outworking of impulses almost blind. The surroundings of men make it very easy for them to sin. The tendencies which at least seem to be innate are too often tragically inclined toward evil. Men seem, of themselves, utterly inadequate for their own redemption. If there is to be redemption it must come from God, and the Christian thought of a moral God would seem to include the obligation on the part of God to redeem those whom He has sent into the world. Christ has made clear forever the absolutely binding nature of moral considerations. If the obligation to redeem men meant everything to Christ, it must also mean everything to the God of Christ. So we feel in line with true Christian thinking in the doctrine that redemption comes first as a discharge of the obligations on the part of God Himself.
If we look for the common thought in all the Christian statements of God's part in redemption we find it in this: that in all these statements God is conceived of as doing all that He can do for the redemption of man. If in earlier times men conceived of the human race as under the dominion of Satan, and of Satan as robbed of his due by the deliverance of man and therefore entitled to some compensation, they also conceived of God Himself as paying the ransom to Satan. If they thought of God as a feudal lord whose dignity had been offended by sin, they thought of God as Himself paying the cost due to offended dignity. If their idea was that a substitute for sinners must be furnished, the idea included the thought of God as Himself providing a substitute. If they conceived of the universe as a vast system of moral laws—broken by sin—whose dignity must be upheld, they thought of God Himself as providing the means for maintaining the dignity of the laws. If they conceived of men as saved by a vast moral influence set at work, they thought of this influence as proceeding, not from man, but from God. The common thought in theories of redemption then, so far as concerns God's part, is that God Himself takes the initiative and does all He can in the discharge of the obligation upon Himself. Each phrasing of the doctrine of redemption is the attempt of an age of Christian thinking to say in its own way that God has done all that He can do for men.
6. Uniqueness of the Son of God as Redeemer:
It is from this standpoint that we must approach the part played by Christ in redemption. This is not the place for an attempt at formal statement, but some elements of Christian teaching are, at least in outline, at once clear. The question is, first, to provide some relation between God and Christ which will make the redemptive work of Christ really effective. Some have thought to find such a statement in the conception that Christ is a prophet. They would empty the expression, "Son of God," of any unique meaning; they would make Christ the Son of God in the same sense that any great prophet could be conceived of as a son of God. Of course, we would not minimize the teaching of the Scripture as to the full humanity of Christ, and yet we may be permitted to voice our belief that the representation of Christ as the Redeemer merely in the same sense in which a prophet is a redeemer does not do justice to the Scripture teaching; and we feel, too, that such a solution of the problem of Christ would be inadequate for the practical task of redemption. If Christ is just a prophet giving us His teaching we rejoice in the teaching, but we are confronted with the problem as to how to make the teaching effective. If it be urged that Christ is a prophet who in Himself realized the moral ideal, we feel constrained to reply that this really puts Christ at a vast distance from us. Such a doctrine of Christ's person would make Him the supreme religious genius, but the human genius stands apart from the ordinary mass of men. He may gather up into Himself and realize the ideals of men; He may voice the aspirations of men and realize those aspirations; but He may not be able to make men like unto Himself. Shakespeare is a consummate literary genius. He has said once and for all many things which the common man thinks or half thinks. When the common man comes upon a phrase of Shakespeare he feels that Shakespeare has said for all time the things which he would himself have said if he had been able. But the appreciation of Shakespeare does not make the ordinary man like Shakespeare; the appreciation of Christ has not proved successful in itself in making men like unto Christ.
If, on the contrary, without attempting formal theological construction, we put some real meaning into the idea of Christ as the Son of God and hold fast to a unique relationship between Christ and God which makes Christ the greatest gift that God can give us, we find indeed that Christ is lifted up to essentially divine existence; but we find also that this divinity does not estrange Him from us. Redemption becomes feasible, not merely when we have a revelation of how far up man can go, but when we have also a revelation of how far down God can come. If we can think of God as having in some real way come into the world through His Son Jesus Christ, that revelation makes Christ the Lord who can lead us to redemption.
Such a conception furnishes the dynamic which we must have in any real process of redemption. We need not only the ideal, but we need power by which to reach the ideal. If we can feel that the universe is under the sway of a moral God, a God who is under obligations to bear the burdens of men, and who willingly assumes these obligations, we really feel that moral life at its fullest and best is the greatest fact in the universe. Moreover, we must be true to the Scriptures and lift the entire conception of redemption beyond the realm of conscience to the realm of the heart. What the conscience of God calls for, the love of God willingly discharges. The Cross of Christ becomes at once the revelation of the righteousness of God and the love of God. Power is thus put back of human conscience and human love to move forward toward redemption (Romans 8:35-39).
The aim of the redemption in Christ then is to lift men out of death toward life. The mind is to be quickened by the revelation of the true ideals of human life. The conscience is to be reenforced by the revelation of the moral God who carries on all things in the interests of righteousness. The heart is to be stirred and won by the revelation of the love which sends an only begotten Son to the cross for our redemption. And we must take the work of Christ, not as a solitary incident or a mere historic event, but as a manifestation of the spirit which has been at work from the beginning and works forever. The Lamb was slain from the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8); the spirit of God revealed in the cross of Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. We have in the cross a revelation of holy love which, in a sense, overpowers and at the same time encourages. The cross is the revelation of the length to which God is willing to go in redemption rather than set aside one jot or tittle of His moral law. He will not redeem men except on terms which leave them men. He will not overwhelm them in any such manner as to do away with their power of free choice. He will show men His own feeling of holiness and love. In the name of a holy love which they can forever aspire after, but which they can never fully reach, men call to Him for forgiveness and that forgiveness men find forever available.
It remains to add one further item of Scriptural teaching, namely that redemption is a continuous process. If we may again use the word "life," which has been the key to this discussion, we may say that the aim of redemption is to make men progressively alive. There are not limits to the development of human powers touched by the redemptive processes of God. The cross is a revelation of divine willingness to bear with men who are forever being redeemed. Of course, we speak of the redeemed man as redeemed once and for all. By this we mean that he is redeemed once and for all in being faced about and started in a right direction, but the progress toward full life may be faster or slower according to the man and the circumstances in the midst of which he is placed. Still the chief fact is the direction in which the man is moving. The revelation of God who aids in redemption is of the God who takes the direction as the chief fact rather than the length of the stride or the rate of the movement. Every man is expected to do his best. If he stumbles he is supposed to find his way to his feet; if he is moving slowly, he must attempt to move faster; if he is moving at a slower rate than he can attain, he must strive after the higher rate, but always the dynamic force is the revelation of the holy love of God.
The Scriptures honor the prophets in whatever land or time they appear. The Scriptures welcome goodness under any and all circumstances. They have a place for a "light that lighteneth every man that cometh into the world," but they still make it clear that the chief force in the redemption of men is the revelation of holy love in Jesus Christ. The redemption, we repeat, is never conceived of in artificial or mechanical terms. If any man hath not the spirit of Christ he does not belong to Christ (Romans 8:9). The aim of redemption is to beget this spirit, and this spirit is life.
H. C. Sheldon, Systematic Theology; Clarke, Outline of Christian Theology; Brown, Christian Theology in Outline; Mackintosh, Doctrine of Person of Christ; Bowne, Studies in Christianity; Tymms, The Christian Atonement.
Francis J. McConnell
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