The Nature of the Atonement - By James Morison
When one picks up a book that was first issued some 170 years ago, the first questions that spring to mind are: Of what relevance is it to us today? Can it have anything of value? The answer to both is a firm ‘yes’, as the issues being addressed in James Morison’s book, The Nature of the Atonement, are just as much misunderstood and in need of our consideration today as when it was first written.
The author states in his introduction the view that the word propitiation in the New Testament is ‘equivalent’ and ‘practically synonymous’ with the word atonement in the Old Testament; then asks the question ‘What then is the atonement?’ In answer he sets out how the atonement is distinct from other aspects of salvation, e.g., pardon, justification, redemption, reconciliation and the payment of debt. Indeed, most of the book is devoted to what atonement is not, with just eighteen of its ninety-nine pages defining what it is.
He shows, in an orderly way, that propitiation (atonement) was made at the cross for all, whereas pardon, justification, redemption, reconciliation are entered individually through faith in Christ.
Perhaps most interesting, is how he addresses the issue of the sinner’s debt. He states that the ‘great atonement is never represented in Scripture as the payment of a debt’, adding that ‘accompanied, with great limitation and modifications, the simile may be allowed as an occasional illustration of the great moral transaction of Calvary.’
In the last chapter, he defines atonement as ‘the obedience unto death of Jesus Christ, which has completely removed all legal obstacles standing between man and the availability of salvation.’ The book concludes with a very brief explanation of this definition.
Reading the book will help a believer to better understand the distinctions between the various aspects of the death of Christ, though one would need to read James Morison’s other book The Extent of the Atonement to have a more comprehensive answer to the question of what the atonement is.
Reviewed by Donald Armstrong