The Meaning of Sacrifice

Islip Collyer

(Note ¨C this booklet from the 1920s is not the same as, and does not appear to be an earlier
version of, the later chapter ¡°The Meaning of Sacrifice¡± from ¡®Principles and Proverbs¡¯)


I am writing these lines in response to the request of some of the brethren who believe that this way of presenting the truth regarding the nature of Christ may be helpful to those who are distressed in mind owing to the persistent blight of doubtful controversy. 1 sincerely hope that the effort will not in any instance be provocative of further strife. It is one of the greatest tragedies of these latter days that the main object of Christ's sacrifice has often been obscured by the fleshly wrangling of men who have thought that they were wise expounding the subject. They have minutely examined technical points, they have insisted upon exact definitions; but all the while have tended to obscure the great central truth of Divine love and mercy ; the terrible character of sin, and the complete conquest of the flesh effected by Christ. A beautiful truth, which should tend more than anything else to " humble us under the mighty hand of God," has been made the subject of endless debate, thus producing an atmosphere in which humility never thrived.

It must surely be agreed that our effort should be to help brethren rather than to attack them ; to find a form of words which all can understand, rather than to provoke strife by insisting on phrases that are doubtful. Above all, to strip ourselves of all human pride. Now, as ever, pride is the most deadly of all the sins. If the great sacrifice does not make us humble, we have missed the most important of all the lessons it can teach us.

More than thirty years ago, Brother Roberts used a phrase which, perhaps better than any other, expresses the meaning of Christ's sacrifice. The work of our Lord was described as the " complete repudiation of the flesh as a basis of approach to God." Christ was begotten not of the will of the flesh, but by the power of the Highest, the Holy Spirit of God. Human flesh was thus rejected as unable to effect any redemption. Christ at all times did the will of His Father. The flesh was thus conquered and sin was condemned in every act of His life. Christ was nailed to the cross, and He died the most painful of deaths. The flesh was thus completely repudiated ; but the personality of the Lord Jesus, the spirit-begotten and spirit-developed character, was raised to life by the same power that had originally "called Him from the womb" ; and only through this exalted Son of God can we approach the throne of grace.

The Apostle Paul speaks of all having sinned and come short of the glory of God, and shows that reconciliation can only be through Divine mercy. He tells us that in Jesus Christ the righteousness of God was declared. He tells us Christ condemned sin in the flesh, and that all occasion for the flesh to glory is excluded. Here we have the moral objects of the sacrifice, and they provide a basis for us to understand the whole subject. The death of Christ was wrought by sinful men who hated Him for His righteousness. It was the inevitable outcome of His faithful testimony, and thus in the fullest sense " He was obedient unto death." God used the sinful men to bring the righteous one to perfection, and to complete the condemnation and repudiation of sin in the flesh.

It is as though the prophet was anticipating this controversy when he wrote :¡ª

" Surely He hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows ; yet did we esteem Him stricken, smitten of God and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities, and the chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and with His stripes we are healed."

It was the purpose of God to bring His Son into the world and to bring Him to perfection in the only way of which we have any knowledge.

That is through the suffering of conscious struggle. Obedience involved such a reproof to powerful sinners that a violent death was the fore-known conclusion. God chose this way of conquering and condemning sin in the very nature that had transgressed and was continually transgressing. He made His Son strong for the work of overcoming and condemning sinful flesh, and this the Lord Jesus did in every act of His life, and finally in His death.

It should not be difficult for Christadelphians to "understand the moral basis of Christ's offering. We know the truth regarding human nature, and we know that Jesus was the Son of God, the beginning of a. new creation. He needed to be made perfect through suffering. We have to follow the same path of conscious struggle, but with the humble consciousness that in our own strength we should be dismal failures. It is only through His righteousness that we can be saved. On the basis of faith in Him, we can be acceptable to God ; but it must be a real faith ; " a belief from the heart unto righteousness " ; a living faith made manifest by works as a thank offering to God.

Why should this supremely important moral aspect of Christ's sacrifice be obscured by endless discussion of details? There should be no difficulty in agreeing on all essentials, if we desire to agree and to help each other through the Gentile wilderness. We agree as to the meaning of Christ's sacrifice; we agree that He was made in all points like His brethren, and tempted and tried just as they are. Our acceptance of these truths is not confused by any false theories regarding human nature, or regarding the personality of the Lord Jesus. We see in Christ the one begotten by the power of God, the Divine character impressed upon human nature and progressively developed from stage to stage, thus making Him strong for the great work. We recognise that it was in character and not in nature that He differed from us. We know that He learned obedience and was made perfect through suffering. If we are well grounded in the first principles of the Oracles of God, all these assurances fall so harmoniously into line that they are not provocative of discussion.

The trouble arises through the use of phrases which are often interpreted in different ways, and which may easily lead to a prolonged and completely unprofitable wrangle. Thus we hear of the " clean flesh heresy," and "the unclean flesh heresy." There have been many pitiful divisions over these phrases. We have been told that we ought to " take action against the clean flesh heresy." If we ask what it is, we are given a definition which is promptly repudiated by those who are supposed to hold it. If we wade through the controversy so far as it has been published, we find that on both sides there has been a use of very unsatisfactory language that can easily be misunderstood, providing differences enough to make a score of divisions if we wanted them.

What do brethren mean when they speak of human flesh being ¡°unclean¡±? Sometimes they use language almost suggesting that they are turning back to the "papistical conceit," as Dr. Thomas called it, of imputed transgression; of Divine wrath against infants, and ceremonies for justification without faith. Sometimes others use language almost suggesting a belief that human beings could sin for thousands of years without any effect upon their flesh. As a set-off to this, there are some who, in their zeal to condemn the "clean flesh heresy," fail to recognise the great physical effects of personal transgression. It has been stated that "the flesh of Christ was just as unclean as that of you or me or any other man."  The one who makes such an affirmation is quite unconscious of any need for qualification, or any danger of misunderstanding. He would probably regard a denial of his proposition as conclusive evidence of the "clean flesh heresy." Yet it is practically certain that he does not really mean what he says, and that on the subject being analysed, he would insist that certain qualifications were obvious. In other words, he needs a generous breadth of mind in the interpretation of his definition such as he will never grant to opponents.

Let us try to get down to root meanings in connection with this "question. What do we mean when we say the flesh is ¡°unclean¡± ?

We get the idea from Scripture. Under the law there were offerings not only for personal transgression, but for all manner of physical uncleanness, even when there is no suggestion of any moral fault. The reason of this is easy to perceive, if we remember that Christ is the substance of all these shadows. All these ills to which the human race is heir are connected with sin. They will only be removed through Christ. Therefore in the types of the law, " all things are cleansed with blood." The Apostle Paul speaks of "sin that dwelleth in me." (Rom. 7:17) He refers to a law in his members tending to bring him into captivity to sin, and he says: "O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from this body of death? "

There is nothing mysterious in all this. Every man who makes an honest effort to follow Christ is conscious of this law of sin in his members. The flesh has a strong tendency to please itself, to rebel against restraint and even to desire that which is forbidden more than that which is permitted. A man who tries to serve God is ready to speak with the Apostle of the law of sin in his members, and to exclaim with him: " who shall deliver me from this body of death ? " It is not merely a theological idea. It is part of the well-known law of habit which has been described as "second nature." There are racial tendencies as well as individual. As with the individual so with the race, the first transgression is the most serious because it spans the distance between innocence and guilt. The beginning of an evil habit is a bigger downward step than all the subsequent confirmations; but every repetition of the evil makes the tendencies so much stronger, and more difficult to overcome. Habit is a physical impression with moral effects. Dr. Thomas said that our nature was just the same as that of Adam, only so much the worse for the many centuries of sin wear. Dr. Thomas furthermore said :¡ª

"The nature of the lower animals is as full of this physical evil principle as the nature of man, though it cannot be styled sin with the same expressiveness, because it does not possess them as the result of their own transgression ; the name, however, does not alter the nature of the thing."¡ª (Elpis Israel, fourth edition, pages 113-114).

When we speak of "sin in the flesh," we mean usually what the Apostle Paul meant when he described the matter so fully in Romans 7. We know that our fathers have all sinned, generation after generation. We know that in this way evil tendencies and habits are formed and confirmed. The Apostle said that there was a law of sin in his members from which he sighed to be delivered. We find the same law in ourselves. Well, surely it is not a clean thing ? I should say it is like " a loathsome disease." It is the physical impression of the racial habit of sinning. It tends to make the individual fall into the same errors and so confirm the habit still more. It is essentially an unclean property of the flesh.

Did Christ partake of this same sin-stricken nature ? We cannot conceive of any one enlightened in the first principles of the Truth who could hesitate for a moment in giving an affirmative answer to this question. These racial tendencies are a part of our physical nature. For Christ to have been free from all the desires of the flesh to please itself would have involved a miracle of Divine energy for the express purpose of making His nature different from ours. Scripture, however, affirms that it was the express object of God to make Him partake of the same nature as ours. That He was made in all points like His brethren. If there had been in His flesh no trace of the racial tendency to sin, He would have been made miraculously free from the worst temptations that assail us. We are informed, however, that He was tempted and tried in all points as we are. Of course, the unclean racial habit was there in His flesh for Him to overcome. I cannot believe that there is a Christadelphian in all the world who would fail to see this truth when presented apart from the blight of phrase-ridden controversy.

When, however, one goes further than this and says: " the flesh of Jesus was just as unclean -as yours or mine or that of any other man," the trouble begins. There are some, perhaps, who feel in their very bones that the definition is untrue, but cannot quite see where the falsehood lies. Assuredly it lies in this: that there is a complete failure to recognise the great and inevitable effect that personal conduct will have upon the unclean inheritance of human nature. It is the old error of the theologians who put so much emphasis on " original sin " or " Adamic sin," that they ignore the far more serious matter of personal conduct. Here again experience confirms the teaching of Scripture. The evil habit or tendency that we inherit is bad enough, but the personal confirmation of that tendency is far worse..

Let us contemplate two human lives of the first century in the land of Israel. In the first picture, they are new-born babes of the same nation and the same tribe. Their ancestors were sinners; they both inherit the racial tendencies which presently will bid them eat and enjoy the fruits that seem good to the eyes. In that sense they are both equally unclean in nature.

The second picture is of rather more than thirty years later. The two babes have grown to manhood and are in the prime of life. One has consistently sinned from childhood, and now, consumed with murderous malice and anger, he is helping to compass the destruction of a teacher of righteousness who reproved him. The other has never sinned in all His life. It has been His meat and drink to do the will of His Father in Heaven. He is stumbling under the weight of the cross on which He is to be slain in obedience to death. And even now, so far from bearing anger or malice toward those who are killing Him, He breathes a prayer: " Father, forgive them ; they know not what they do."

Can we say now that the bodies of the two men are equally unclean? The one in whom the unclean racial habit has been consistently confirmed, and the one in whom it has been consistently condemned?

Unless he has become so much the slave of phrases that he has lost all capacity to deal with meanings, every brother will surely recognise that the definition we have challenged is demonstrably wrong. Surely every brother who thinks must also recognise that Christ was a partaker of our unclean mortal inheritance with its racial tendencies of rebellion against God. It was this that He had to overcome and condemn. It is perfectly true to say that as a babe His flesh was just as unclean as that of other babes. That is another way of saying that He was made in all points like His brethren, and tempted just as we are. We all come from sinful ancestors, and the habit of rebellion is part of our inheritance. But when Christ was at the end of his probation, having overcome every weakness of the flesh, having brought every thought into subjection, it is not at all true to say that His body was just as unclean as that of a sinner. If brethren will try to help each other to understand these things, after a little while of such effort we shall probably hear no more of the "clean flesh" and the "unclean flesh" heresies. We agree that Christ was exactly of our nature, with all the weakness, mortality, uncleanness, racial tendency, or whatever we call it that we inherit from sinful ancestors. We agree that He was tempted just as we are. We agree that He overcame and thus condemned and crucified the flesh in every act of His life, right to the obedience of death. Cannot we agree to leave it at that and pay more heed to the moral lesson of our Lord's sacrifice, if perchance in the Divine mercy we, in spite of our utter unworthiness, may be saved by Him?

I. C.


(Original pamphlet concludes with the words:
Further copies of this pamphlet may be had from Bro H. B. ANDREWS, 64, Meadway, Old Southgate, London, NW11)

This scan Dec. 2006