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Quotes About Atonement

Quotes about atonement from throughout Christian History.

Clement of Rome, A.D. 95-96

We [Rome and Corinth] are struggling in the same arena, and the conflict is assigned to both of us. Therefore, let us give up vain and fruitless cares and approach the glorious and venerable rule of our holy calling. Let us attend to what is good, pleasing, and acceptable in the sight of him who formed us. Let us look steadfastly to the blood of Christ and see how precious that blood is to God, which, having been shed for our salvation, has set the grace of repentance before the whole world. Let us turn to every age that has passed and learn that, from generation to generation, the Lord has granted a place of repentance to all who would be converted to him. (First Clement 7)

Ignatius of Antioch, A.D. 110

Let my spirit be counted as nothing for the sake of the cross, which is a stumbling block to those that do not believe, but to us salvation and life eternal. (Letter to the Ephesians 18)

Since you are subject to the bishop as to Jesus Christ, you appear to me to live not after the ways of men, but according to Jesus Christ, who died for us in order that by believing in his death, you might escape from death. (Letter to the Trallians 2)

I trust in the grace of Jesus Christ, who shall free you from every bond. And I exhort you to do nothing out of strife, but according to the doctrine of Christ. I heard some saying, "If I do not find it in the ancient Scriptures, I will not believe the Gospel." On my saying to them, "It is written," they answered me, "That remains to be proved." But to me Jesus Christ is in the place of all that is ancient: His cross, death, resurrection, and the faith which is by him, are undefiled monuments of antiquity by which I desire, through your prayers, to be justified. (Letter to the Philadelphians 8)

I have observed that you are perfected in an immoveable faith, as if you were nailed to the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, both in the flesh and in the spirit, and are established in love through the blood of Christ, being fully persuaded with respect to our Lord, that he was truly [born] of the seed of David according to the flesh and the Son of God according to the will and power of God; that he was truly born of a virgin, was baptized by John, in order that all righteousness might be fulfilled by him; and was truly, under Pontius Pilate and Herod the tetrarch, nailed [to the cross] for us in His flesh. Of this fruit we exist by his divinely-blessed passion, that he might set up a standard for all ages through his resurrection to all his holy and faithful, whether among Jews or Gentiles, in the one body of His Church. (Letter to the Smyrneans 1)

Let no man deceive himself. Both the things which are in heaven and the glorious angels and rulers, both visible and invisible, if they do not believe in the blood of Christ, shall, in consequence, incur condemnation. "He that is able to receive it, let him receive it."

     Do not let status puff any one up, for that which is worth all is faith and love, to which nothing is to be preferred. But consider those who are of a different opinion with respect to the grace of Christ which has come unto us, how opposed they are to the will of God. They have no regard for love; no care for the widow, or the orphan, or the oppressed; of the bond, or of the free; of the hungry, or of the thirsty.(Letter to the Smyrneans 2)

Ignatius answered, "There is but one God, who made heaven, earth, and the sea, and all that are in them; and one Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, whose kingdom may I enjoy."

     Trajan said, "Do you mean the one who was crucified under Pontius Pilate?"

     Ignatius replied, "I mean the one who crucified my sin, along with him who was the inventor of it, and who has condemned all the deceit and malice of the devil under the feet of those who carry him in their heart."

     Trajan said, "Do you then carry within you the one that was crucified?"

     Ignatius replied, "Truly so, for it is written, 'I will dwell in them, and walk in them.'" (Martyrdom of Ignatius 2)

Pseudo-Barnabas, A.D. 120 - 130

For this purpose the Lord endured to deliver his flesh to death, so that we might be sanctified through the remission of sins, which is brought about by his blood of sprinkling. ...

     If the Lord endured to suffer for our soul, he being Lord of all the world ... understand how it was that he endured to suffer at the hand of men ... that he might abolish death and reveal the resurrection from the dead, endured in order that he might fulfil the promise made to the fathers. By preparing a new people for himself, he wanted to show—while he dwelt on earth—that he, when he has raised mankind, will also judge them. (Letter of Barnabas 5)

Letter to Diognetus, A.D. 80 - 200

He himself took on the burden of our iniquities, He gave his own Son as a ransom for us, the Holy One for transgressors, the Blameless One for the wicked, the Righteous One for the unrighteous, the Incorruptible One for the corruptible, the Immortal One for them that are mortal. For what other thing was capable of covering our sins than his righteousness? By what other one was it possible that we, the wicked and ungodly, could be justified, other than by the only Son of God? Oh, sweet exchange! Oh, unsearchable operation! Oh, benefits surpassing all expectation! That the wickedness of many should be hid in a single Righteous One, and that the righteousness of One should justify many transgressors! (ch. 9)

Justin Martyr, c. A.D. 150

Our Saviour Jesus Christ … being the Word of God, inseparable from Him in power, having assumed [the form of] man, who had been made in the image and likeness of God, restored to us the knowledge of the religion of our ancient forefathers. (Hortatory Address to the Greeks 38)

"Our Lord Jesus Christ prescribed this celebration [Eucharist, communion, or Lord's Supper] in memory of the suffering which he endured on behalf of those who are purified in soul from all iniquity, in order that we may … thank [reference to Eucharist, which means thanksgiving] God … for delivering us from the evil we were in, and for utterly overthrowing principalities and powers by him who suffered according to his will." (Dialogue with Trypho 41)

Since we find it recorded in the memoirs of the apostles that he is the Son of God, and since we call him the Son, we have understood that he proceeded before all creatures from the Father by his power and his will ... and that he became man by the virgin, in order that the disobedience which proceeded from the serpent might receive its destruction in the same way in which it derived its origin. For Eve, who was a virgin and undefiled, having conceived by the word of the serpent, brought forth disobedience and death. But the virgin Mary received faith and joy when the angel Gabriel announced the good news to her that the Spirit of the Lord would come upon her and the power of the Highest would overshadow her. Therefore, also, that which was begotten by her is the Son of God. ... By her has he been born ... by whom God destroys both the serpent and those angels and men who are like him, but works deliverance from death to those who repent of their wickedness and believe in him. (Dialogue with Trypho 100)

Hermas, c. A.D. 170

"Why, sir," I asked [the Angel of Repentance], "is the Son of God in the parable in the form of a slave?"

   "Hear," he answered. "The Son of God is not in the form of a slave, but in great power and might."

   "How so, sir?" I said. "I do not understand."

   "Because," he answered, "God planted the vineyard, that is to say, he created the people, and he gave them to his Son. The Son appointed his angels over them to keep them. He himself purged away their sins, having suffered many trials and undergone many labors, for no one is able to dig without labor and toil. He himself, then, having purged away the sins of the people, showed them the paths of life by giving them the law which he received from his Father. (Shepherd of Hermas. Similitude 5th. Ch. 5-6.)

Irenaeus, A.D. 183-186

The following quote needs a context. Irenaeus argues that Jesus lived to nearly fifty years old and ministered for 15 to 20 years. His view is unique to all of Christian history, as far as I know, though he refers to elders from the apostolic age who agreed with him. The fact that Irenaeus provides an argument at all is an indication that he knew that what he was saying was not a universal, nor perhaps even common, belief in the early churches. Part of his argument, however, is something that other early writers say, which is that everything Jesus did purified or sanctified that part of life. Thus, even his baptism sanctified all future baptisms. This relates to the atonement, so it is included on this page.

For he came to save everyone by way of himself. By everyone I mean all those who are born again to God through him: infants, children, boys, youths, and old men. He therefore passed through every age, becoming an infant for infants and a child for children, thus sanctifying those who are of this age, and at the same time becoming an example of piety, righteousness, and submission for them. He was a youth for youths, becoming an example for youths and sanctifying them for the Lord. So likewise he was an old man for old men, so that he might be a perfect Master for everyone, not merely in regard to laying out the truth, but also in regard to age, sanctifying at the same time the aged as well and becoming an example to them likewise. Then, at last, he reached death itself, so that he might become "the firstborn from the dead, that in all things he might have the preeminence" [Col. 1:18], "the Prince of Life" [Acts 3:15], existing before everyone and going before everyone. (Against Heresies II:22:4)

For all things had entered upon a new phase, the Word arranging after a new manner the advent in the flesh, that he might restore to God that human nature which had departed from God. (Against Heresies III:10:1)

As our Lord is alone truly Master, so the Son of God is truly good and patient, the Word of God the Father having been made the Son of man. He fought and conquered, for he was man contending for the fathers, and through obedience doing away with disobedience completely. He bound the strong man [Matt. 12:29], set the weak free, and endowed his own handiwork with salvation by destroying sin. He is a most holy and merciful Lord and loves the human race.

   ... He caused man to cleave to and to become one with God. For unless man had overcome the enemy of man, the enemy would not have been legitimately vanquished. Again, unless it had been God who had freely given salvation, we could never have possessed it securely. And unless man had been joined to God, he could never have become a partaker of incorruptibility. It was incumbent upon the Mediator between God and men, by his relationship to both, to bring both to friendship and concord and to present man to God while he revealed God to man.

   In what way could we have partaken of the adoption of sons unless we had received from him, through the Son, that fellowship which refers to himself, unless his Word, having been made flesh, had entered into communion with us? Therefore, he passed through every stage of life, restoring all fellowship with God.

   Those, therefore, who assert that he simply appeared to exist on earth, but was neither born in the flesh nor truly made man, are as yet under the old condemnation, still giving patronage to sin. For from their point of view, death has not been vanquished, which "reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the likeness of Adam's transgression" [Rom. 5:14]. But the law came, which was given by Moses, and it testified of sin that it is a sinner, it truly took away his [i.e., death's] kingdom, showed that he was no king, but a robber, and revealed him as a murderer. It laid, however, a weighty burden upon man, who had sin in himself, showing that he was liable to death. For as the law was spiritual, it merely made sin to stand out in relief, but did not destroy it.

   For sin had no dominion over the spirit, but over man. For it was good for him who was to destroy sin and redeem man from the power of death to be made that very same thing which he was, that is, man. Man had been drawn by sin into bondage, but was held by death, so that sin should be destroyed by man, and man should go forth from death.

   For as by the disobedience of the one man who was originally molded from virgin soil, the many were made sinners and forfeited life. So it was necessary that, by the obedience of one man, who was originally born from a virgin, many should be justified and receive salvation. For this, then, was the Word of God made man ... What he appeared to be, that he also was. God recapitulated in himself the ancient formation of man so that he might kill sin, deprive death of its power, and bring man to life. (Against Heresies III:18:6-7)

As by one man's disobedience sin entered, and death obtained [a place] through sin, so also by the obedience of one man, righteousness was introduced and shall cause life to fructify in those persons who in times past were dead. And as the protoplast himself, Adam, had his substance from untilled and as yet virgin soil ... and was formed by the hand of God, that is, by the Word of God, for "all things were made by him" [Jn. 1:3], and the Lord took dust from the earth and formed man, so the One who is the Word rightly receive a birth, recapitulating Adam in himself and enabling him to gather Adam up from Mary, who was as yet a virgin. If then, the  first Adam had a man for his father, and he was born of human seed, then it would be reasonable to say that the second Adam was begotten of Joseph. However, if the former was taken from the dust, and God was his Maker, it was incumbent upon the latter as well to make a recapitulation in himself and be formed as man by God, so that he has an analogy with the former in regard to his origin. Why, then, did God not take dust again but do the formation from Mary? It was so that there would not be another formation called into being, nor anyone else who would need to be saved, but that the very same formation [i.e., Adam] should be summed up, the analogy having been preserved. (Against Heresies III:21:10)

It was for this reason, too, that the Lord descended into the regions beneath the earth, preaching his advent there also and the remission of sins received by those who believe in him. Now all those who believed in him, who had hope towards him—that is, those who proclaimed his advent and submitted to his dispensations; the righteous men, the prophets, and the patriarchs—to whom he remitted sins in the same way he did to us, which sins we should not lay to their charge, if we would not despise the grace of God. (Against Heresies IV:27:2)

Truly the death of the Lord became healing and remission of sins to the former [i.e., those under the old covenant], but Christ shall not die again on behalf of those who now commit sin, for death shall no more have dominion over him. (Against Heresies IV:27:2)

As far as the apostasy is concerned, he indeed redeems us from it righteously, by his own blood; but in regard to us who have been redeemed, graciously. For we have given nothing to him in advance, nor does he desire anything from us, as though he stood in need of it, but we do stand in need of fellowship with him. It was for this reason that he poured himself out, so that he might gather us into the bosom of the Father. (Against Heresies V:2:1)

The Lord exposed [Satan] in his true character saying, "Depart Satan, for it is written, 'You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve." ... By the words of the Law the Lord showed that the Law does indeed declare the Word of God from the Father. The apostate angel of God is destroyed by [the Law's] voice, being exposed in his true colors, and the Son of Man vanquishes him by keeping the commandment of God.

   In the beginning he enticed man to transgress his Maker's law and got him under his power, yet his power consists of transgression and apostasy. With these he bound man. So again it was necessary that through man himself he should, when conquered, be bound with the same chains with which he had bound man, in order that man, being set free, might return to the Lord and leave to him those chains by which he himself had been fettered, which is sin. For when Satan is bound, man is set free, since "none can enter a strong man's house and spoil his goods, unless he first bind the strong man himself" [Matt. 12:29; Mark 3:27]. 

   Therefore the Lord exposes him as speaking contrary to the Word of that God who made all things and subdues him by means of the commandment. Now the Law is the commandment of God. The Man [i.e., Jesus] proves him to be a fugitive from and a transgressor of the Law as well as an apostate from God. Afterward, the Word bound him securely as a fugitive from himself [i.e., from Jesus, the Word of God] and made spoil of his goods, which were those men whom he held in bondage and whom he unjustly used for his own purposes.

   Justly indeed is he led captive, who had led men unjustly into bondage, while man, who had been led captive in times past, was rescued from the grasp of his possessor, according to the tender mercy of God the Father, who had compassion on his own handiwork and gave it salvation, restoring it by means of the Word—that is, by Christ—so that men might learn by actual proof that he receives incorruptibility, not of himself, but by the free gift of God. (Against Heresies V:21:2-3)

Clement of Alexandria, c. A.D. 190

Man, that had been free by reason of simplicity, was found fettered to sins. The Lord then wished to release him from his bonds and, clothing himself with flesh—O divine mystery!—vanquished the serpent and enslaved the tyrant death. Most marvelous of all, man that had been deceived by pleasure and bound fast by corruption had his hands unloosed and was set free. O mystic wonder! (Exhortation to the Heathen 11)

We have as a limit the cross of the Lord, by which we are fenced and hedged about from our former sins. Therefore, being regenerated, let us fix ourselves to it in truth, and return to sobriety, and sanctify ourselves. (The Instructor III:12)

Cyprian, A.D. 249-258

Lest therefore we should walk in darkness, we ought to follow Christ, and to observe his precepts, because he himself told his apostles in another place, as he sent them forth, All power is given to me in heaven and earth. Go, therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you." Therefore, if we wish to walk in the light of Christ, let us not depart from his precepts and admonitions, giving thanks that, while he instructs for the future what we ought to do, he pardons for the past where we in our simplicity have erred. ("Caecilius, on the Sacrament of the Cup of the Lord." Epistles of Cyprian 62:18. In Ante-Nicene Fathers. Vol. V. American Ed. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1885.)

Hippolytus, d. c. A.D. 235

For having blessed the cup in the Name of God you received it as the antitype [figure] of the Blood of Christ. Therefore, do not spill it, that no alien spirit lick it up because you despised it [and became] guilty of the Blood of Christ as one who despises the price with which he has been bought. (Apostolic Tradition III:32:4)

Gregory of Nyssa, d. c. AD 394

For it was when he came in the form of a servant to accomplish the mystery of redemption by the cross, who had emptied himself, who humbled himself by assuming the likeness and fashion of a man, being found as man in man’s lowly nature--then, I say, it was that he became obedient, even he who "took our infirmities and bare our sicknesses” [Matt. 8:17; Isa. 53:4] healing the disobedience of men by his own obedience, that by his stripes he might heal our wound, and by his own death do away with the common death of all men--then it was that for our sakes he was made obedient, even as he became sin and a curse by reason of the dispensation on our behalf, not being so by nature, but becoming so in his love for man. (Against Eunomius, Bk. II, ch. 11)

Martin Luther, c. 1520

Your sins indeed are great, but by baptism I [i.e., Christ] bestow on you my righteousness; I strip death from you and clothe you with my life. That's Christ's true regimen; his office and mission are summed up in this, that he daily strips away our sin and death and clothes us with his righteousness and life. ("First Sunday in Advent" from Complete Sermons of Martin Luther, vol. V [Grand Rapids, MI:BakerBooks, 2007])

George MacDonald, 1875

To make my meaning clearer,—some of you say we must trust in the finished work of Christ; or again, our faith must be in the merits of Christ—in the atonement he has made—in the blood he has shed: all these statements are a simple repudiation of the living Lord, in whom we are told to believe, who, by his presence with and in us, and our obedience to him, lifts us out of darkness into light, leads us from the kingdom of Satan into the glorious liberty of the sons of God. No manner or amount of belief about him is the faith of the New Testament. With such teaching I have had a lifelong acquaintance, and declare it most miserably false. (Unspoken Sermons, Series I., II., and III., p. 391; emphasis [and punctuation] in original)

The Kindle version linked here was free on 11/9/2013; I don't know if that is permanent.

When you say that to be saved a man must hold this or that, then you are forsaking the living God and his will and putting trust in some notion about him or his will. To make my meaning clearer: Some of you say that we must trust in the finished work of Christ. Or you say that our faith must be in the merits of Christ—in the atonement he has made—in the blood he has shed.

   All these statements are a simple repudiation of the living Lord in whom we are told to believe. … No manner or amount of belief about him is the faith of the New Testament.

   With such teaching I have had a lifelong acquaintance, and I declare it most miserably false. (The Truth in Jesus [Minneapolis, MN: BethanyHouse; 2007] p. 59, emphasis in original)

If you do nothing that [Jesus] says, it is no wonder that you cannot trust in him and are therefore driven to seek refuge in the atonement as if something he had done, and not he himself in his doing were the atonement. (The Truth in Jesus [Minneapolis, MN: BethanyHouse; 2007] p. 66-67)

Philip Schaff, 1882

Part of the reason for including the following quote is the remarkable audacity of this Protestant scholar and historian, for whom I otherwise have great respect, in making himself a judge of which early Christian—so much closer to the time of the apostles than he—is "soundest" in his theology and the equally amazing suggestion that the Latin church's "development" of a doctrine is something good!

Irenaeus is the first of all teachers to give a careful analysis of the work of redemption, and his view is by far the deepest and soundest we find in the first three centuries. ... Athanasius, in his early youth, at the beginning of the next period [i.e., the Nicene and Post-Nicene period], wrote the first systematic treatise on redemption and answer to the question "Cur Deus Homo?" [Why did God become man?]. But it was left for the Latin church, after the epoch-making treatise of Anselm, to develop this important doctrine in its various aspects. (History of the Christian Church. Vol. II.)

Fr. Stephen Freeman, 2014

Rector of St. Anne Orthodox Church, Oak Ridge, TN, USA.

The voluntary self-offering of Christ is not a transaction, a sacrifice or payment required for the forgiveness of sin. It is the voluntary self-offering of God by which we are united to Him. It is also the primary revelation of God to man. ("The Human Project". Accessed Dec. 4, 2014.)

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