Satisfaction, Government or Conciliation?

by A.E. Knoch

THEORIES concerning the value of Christ's death have a special interest for the saints. In glancing through an exchange, I noticed that the theory of Satisfaction is taken as the true one, and the Government theory is said to be false. I doubt whether the leading exponents of either theory could give an exact definition of their view. In fact, the latter seems to be a reaction due to logical contradictions in the former. I have no doubt that there are elements of truth in both, but the large amount which has been written indicates the impossibility of discovering the truth by using these words, and suggests that there is something amiss in this method of searching God's Word. "Satisfaction," in theology, does not mean that God is satisfied with the sacrifice of Christ, with which we would fully concur, but that it settles the claims of God against the sinner. At least so it seems to be used.

To the man of God the question arises, why should there be any "theory" on this subject at all? In science, theories are put forth and tested by the facts of nature. But there is no need for this in revelation, for it is itself the answer to, and explanation of, the questions that arise. However, if any investigation is desirable, we should heed the apostle's admonition, and cling to the pattern of sound words which Paul has used in dealing with the subject in hand (2 Tim.1:13). The word "satisfaction" may do to represent a human theory, but God has not used it to express the divine truth as to this matter, although it may accord with some aspects of it. The same is true of the term "governmental." These are unsound words, which not only fail to lead us fully aright, but actually introduce ideas which are contrary to the truth.

Many years ago, when I heralded what I had been taught was the gospel, I told my listeners that Christ had died in their room and stead and "satisfied" the claims of God against them, and exhorted them to believe and accept God's grace. But when I walked away, my conscience bothered me, for I was not at all sure that I had told the truth. I could not help thinking that, if Christ had died as their Substitute, a righteous God must save them even if they did not believe. If the price had been paid, how could God refuse to deliver the goods? This troubled me so much that I made a prolonged study of all the words involved, in the original Greek. This led me to discard such terms as "room and stead," "satisfied," "substitute," etc., and form a vocabulary of sound words, patterned after Paul.

Such terms are not even applied to this matter in the popular versions, let alone the inspired Original. Since then I have never felt the need of them, although I have written much concerning the value of Christ's death, in relation to God as well as to man. By means of a concordant vocabulary, and such distinctions as that expressed by conciliation and reconciliation, the problems that arise from the use of Satisfaction and Government are avoided, and the truth emerges clearly and conclusively. I now have the fullest liberty in heralding that God was conciliated to the world by the death of Christ, whether they believe it or not. And I can go on and pray them to be conciliated to Him. If they believe, then there is reconciliation along with salvation and justification. This needs no theory or explanation, and does not demand that the evangelist preach a palpable falsehood.

This should be a lesson to us, for there is a strong tendency to use unscriptural key-words, or to use the inspired terms outside their proper sphere. This was brought to my mind lately by an effort to prove that God controls everything, but predestinates only the essentials. There are only a few' passages which deal with God's activities in relation to all things. It is revealed that all is out of and through and for Him (Rom.11:36), and that He is operating all (Eph.1:11), and that He is able to subject all (Phil.3: 21), and that all has its cohesion in Him (Col.1:17) and that the Son is carrying all (Heb.1:3), but not that God controls all. I do not doubt this in the least, but I can find no context to which I can anchor the thought, or test its scope, or fix its limitations. For me it is enough that God is operating all according to the counsel of His will. I fear, the term "control" will lead me into theories and theology.

On the other hand, pre-determination, or rather, designating beforehand is a scriptural thought, which should be considered in its contexts to determine its scope. That it is applied to the saints is not in question (Rom.8:29,30; Eph.1:5, 11). But it is also applied to the acts of evil men, especially at the crucifixion of Christ (Acts 4:28). Paul, in Ephesians, puts us on the right, track when he calls attention to the fact that we were designated beforehand according to the purpose of the One Who is operating all in accord with the counsel of His will (Eph.1:11). Pre-determination is only one aspect of God's larger purpose. There is a double harmony in this verse. The pre-determination agrees with the purpose, and that agrees with the counsel of His will. The latter two are concerned with all which is headed up in the Christ, both that in the heavens and that on the earth (v.10).

The same agreement is seen in connection with pre-designation in the conclusion of the first part of Paul's epistle to the Romans. We are aware that God is working all together for the good of those who are loving Him,, according to the purpose that, whom He foreknew, He designates beforehand...(Rom.8:28,29). God cannot confine Himself in His working to the saints alone because they are vitally affected by their environment, sinners as well as saints, things as well as persons. Consequently, while only those who love God are spoken of as designated beforehand for special blessing, this involves a previous purpose in regard to all as well as them. And the purpose must have been formed in God's mind before its execution or it would lack the essential sense conveyed by BEFORE-PLACing in the Original.

The divine process, expressed in human terms, but refined by divine usage, is this: God wills to reveal Himself. He takes counsel with Himself, as there was none other. As a result, He forms a purpose or plans all to the consummation. Some are chosen or selected and designated beforehand to be associated with Him in the execution of His purpose, and have a special place in His plan. What is true of them is not said of all, and should not be attributed to them. All will be saved, but only those chosen have eonian salvation. Only the members of the government in the United States are elected. The rest of us are not elected to be private citizens. Neither are the bulk of mankind chosen not to be saints. Saints alone are selected according to His purpose.

God is not a man, so we cannot reason from our standpoint to His. Yet a wise man will act more like God than a fool. As I did much of the work myself on the first house I built, I made no detailed plans, thinking I could save myself that effort. But experience taught me, the folly of this. So, when I built my last house, I had an architect make detailed drawings from my full sketches. Alterations, while building, are vexatious and expensive. That is doubtless why God's plans show so much detail. Of course it could not all be revealed to us because of our limitations. But some prophecies of the future are most minute in their descriptions, and these are only samples of God's foreknowledge.

What a marvelous revelation it was for our hearts when we first saw that God had a purpose, or plan! He knows all beforehand because He created all and operates all according to the counsel of His will. This word, purpose, is the one which tells us of God's activity in respect to all things before they enter the sphere of His operations. Nothing is left to chance. And the purpose is based upon counsel, not guesswork, and conformed to His will. He has a definite object in view, and has planned all beforehand, so that He will be All in all at the consummation. Let us keep this order. God's will leads to counsel, and counsel presents a plan or purpose which is for all, and not till then are election and pre-designation introduced for some.

Can we be sure that anything is not essential (another unscriptural term!) in His plan? In itself, apart from its consequences, which were not apparent at the time, how insignificant was the eating of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil! What a small thing was the cry of the infant Moses! A sleepless night on the part of a king led to the deliverance of Israel and the feast of Purim, which they observe to this day. And so, throughout the record of God's dealings with mankind. God chooses the weak things and that which is not, in order to exclude man's boasting (1 Cor.1:27-29).

To be sure, if we walk in a circle, with no destination, no purpose, no step is essential, for we always arrive where we began. But if we have a goal and wish to get somewhere, every step is necessary. If we leave one out, we fail to fulfill our destiny. God has a purpose, and every step is essential, if He is to accomplish His will.

And in our daily lives, how delightful to leave everything in His hands! Often it is the trivial matter that threatens to disturb our peace and mar our ministry. Just now, when I wished to write this article, the electricity failed, and I had to do some of it by candlelight. Such a thing is apt to be very upsetting when one is in the throes of composition. But if we "practice the presence of God," and take everything from His hand with thankful hearts, it transforms our lives and encourages our hearts. Then faithless friends, false brethren, subtle opposition, slander, even the fiery arrows that undoubtedly come from the spiritual powers of darkness, though they arrive through some unwary saint, and most of them are non-essential, all these may be borne with endurance, nay, with thankful appreciation, when we realize that they ultimately and actually come from His loving hand and heart.

He who knows the number of the stars has also counted the hairs of our heads. No sparrow falls to the ground without His notice. Not only the mighty sun in its magnifical course is guided by His arm, but the tiny, glowworm is dependent on Him for its light. When He willed and counselled and purposed to save mankind, He did not send mighty Michael to execute the stupendous task, but used a tiny Babe, a poor Palestinian Artisan, Who was done to death as a criminal. He is not only the God of the vast universe, but of the various parts of the atom. There also He reveals His power. What says the law? Our Lord taught His disciples "Whosoever should be annulling one of the least of these precepts..." And again, "till heaven and earth should be passing by, one iota or one serif may by no means be passing by from the law till all should be occurring" (Matt.5:18,19). Nothing could be smaller than this. In God's ways there are no non-essentials. And in His Word there are no superfluous letters or distinguishing features of letters. Such is the God Who speaks to us in His revelation, and such is His way with us in our experience.

Such an experience is the very opposite of fatalism. For the greater part of a year I lived among a people who attributed everything to kismet or Fate. Its effect is quite the reverse of a joyous submission to a God who is operating all for our welfare. They had not the least idea why things were as they are, or that they were cooperating for their benefit. Many were submissive, but depressed, hopeless and despondent, and some were quite sure that fate was against them and always would be. I object to the word fatalism on philological grounds. It ought to be fate-ism. But I would not change it, for its effect is fatal and deadening. The result of seeing God's hand and heart in even the most trivial of our experiences, in contrast, is a continual solace for the bitterness of our existence and fills the heart with the continual joy and rejoicing, even in the severest strokes of apparent misfortune. It is an elixir of life and happiness.

What a puzzling task it would be to sort things out into essential and otherwise! Theologians could make this an eternal battle-ground, such as the age of responsibility, or just how much must the sinner hear in order to become a Christ-rejector, etc., etc. When I lose something, I almost subconsciously leave it in the hands of God lest it disturb my work, and manage without it meanwhile, if possible. In almost every case it turns up of itself, and I am thankful that its loss did not disturb my spirit, as it ordinarily would have done. Essential! I would say that every step is essential, and if taken out of fellowship with God, it could easily transform my ministry from one of edification to destruction, from one of gracious forbearance, to reviling, or even from close adherence to the form of sound words to the darkening of counsel by abandoning the patterns presented to us in Paul's epistles. Are any of us essential?


Is it not a sorrowful sight to see how the saints, who have believed for their own salvation, refuse to believe in His glorification? Almost all reject some phase of it. Some refuse to believe that all is for Him and denounce the reconciliation of all. Others will not give Him His place as the One through Whom all is being operated today. Still others, such as we have been considering, have difficulty in accepting the basic truth of the beginning, that all is out of Him. May He be gracious to us in our feeble efforts to grasp His glories, and grant that we give to Him the praise that is His throughout the times eonian!

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