actively offering

Hugh Martin in his work on the atonement devotes a chapter to ‘Christ’s priestly action in his death.’

… in this transaction of the death at Calvary he combined the two apparently antagonistic attitudes of suffering and offering – suffering unto such extent and such intensity as would have quelled all the active powers … of any but a divine person; and offering also in such activity, and such unquelled and excelling triumphant action, as if no suffering were making drain upon his active powers at all – this is the apparent paradox in the death of Christ …

[Terms like his ‘passion’ concentrate attention on the aspect in which Christ appears as the victim, only enduring and being subjected to suffering.] We must never cease to affirm that this representation of the cross is most inadequate. It exhibits the cross as the emblem and scene of patience merely, while it conceals those glorious and glorifying aspects of it in which it is seen to be an altar of priestly agency, a throne of powerful action, and a chariot of victory and triumph. It represents Christ’s activity as subdued and overborne, or at least in abeyance. It [omits to mention] the grand consideration … that Christ’s actual putting forth of power, and his official, and obedient, and positive agency … prevailed to put forth their energy … precisely against an inconceivable combination of agencies and instruments naturally fitted, had that been possible, to subdue and overbear them. Earth, and hell, and heaven: earth’s rulers and her rabble; her kings, and priests, and soldiers, and malefactors assailing him; her Jews and Gentiles; her dumb creatures even; earth’s forests furnishing wood, earth’s streams refusing water, earth’s bitterness mingled in vinegar and gall, earth’s curse embodied in her thorns, in mockery and pain to crown him, earth’s founded steadfastness refusing to support him, and her firmament to shine upon him; hell’s utmost force and fury gathered up against him; heaven’s sword devouring him, heaven’s God forsaking him – earth, and hell, and heaven thus in conspiring action against him, unto the uttermost of heaven’s extremest justice and earth’s and hell’s extremest injustice – what is the glory of the cross, if it be not this, that with such action conspiring to subdue his action, his action outlasted and outlived them all, and he did not die subdued and overborne into dying, he did not die till he gave himself to death? Emmanuel a mere sufferer in his death! ‘The Logos of the Cross is the Power of God.’

Among some of the more obvious testimonies to the doctrine that the death of Christ was an action of his priestly office may be reckoned the assertion of Isaiah that ‘he poured out his soul unto death;’ the phrases frequently used by the apostle Paul, that ‘he loved the Church and gave himself for it,’ and, specialising this love and loving service to the individual believer, ‘he loved me, and gave himself for me;’ and again, ‘Christ also hath loved us, and hath delivered himself for us an offering and sacrifice to God for a sweet smelling savour,’ and again, ‘when he had by himself purged our sins.’ The doxology of John: ‘Unto him that loved us and washed us from our sins in his own blood.’ The frequent expressions of the Lord himself: ‘The Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his live a ransom for many;’ and, very specially, his ever-memorable account of himself as the Good Shepherd, ‘The good shepherd giveth his life for his sheep.’ So solicitous is our Lord on this point that he repeats it again and again, in the strongest and most emphatic terms, positive and negative alike: ‘No one taketh it from me, I lay it down of myself.’ And so powerfully does he bring out the idea of his own agency being concerned in his death that he places it on a level with the agency he should put forth in his resurrection, and represents obedient action equally in the two cases as constituting jointly what his Father’s commandment had enjoined up on him, and what his Father’s love and approbation rested in so complacently: ‘Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No one taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself – at my own instance, of my own will, by my own deed – I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment received I of my Father.’

In the unseen spiritual world, while his body was hanging on the cross, he was ‘pouring out his soul unto death,’ in spontaneous action of his own, as self-instigated, self-sustained, self-controlled as was that of Aaron when he [brought the two goats]. No priest ‘standing daily ministering and offering often times’ was ever more free from coercion in his office, or so gloriously active in discharging it, as this man when he offered one sacrifice for sins. Nor did this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins, for ever sit down on the right hand of God a more free and more powerful agent than when he offered that sacrifice which earned him the throne. We speak of his ‘doing’ and his ‘dying.’ His dying was his grandest doing. The light and evidence of his active obedience, instead of paling on the cross, shines out there most brilliantly of all – shining down the darkness of death, and of the frown of incensed justice, till the dark frown passes off from the face of the Eternal Judge, and the light of a Father’s countenance is lifted on the obedient Son in the moment of his saying, ‘Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit.’ The Father’s will is done. It is done by the Eternal Son, through the Eternal Spirit. Consentient actings of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost fill the death of Christ with action and with power unparalleled and transcendent; and the Logos of the cross is the power of God.


Hugh Martin, The Atonement: in its relations to the Covenant, the Priesthood, the Intercession of our Lord. First published 1870. These excerpts from the Knox Press reprint, 1976 (minus verse references; italics original).


4 thoughts on “actively offering

  1. That last paragraph is especially stirring and uplifting.

    If I remember correctly, Robert Reymond in his Systematic Theology argues similarly in rejecting the conventional distinction between the active and the passive obedience of Christ.


  2. Yes – Hugh Martin objects to the terms, at least. A few pages previously he comments on “what we have long thought the unhappy and not very intelligible expression – ‘Christ’s active and passive obedience.'”
    “No doubt, with explanations, the phrase may be allowed; and, without question, it is with these explanations that sound writers have used it. It has been employed to express the fact that in Christ’s life and death as our surety, there meet the endurance of the penalty of the law and the inbringing of a postiive righteousness. But it may be safely doubted whether the phrase ‘passive obedience’ naturally indicates anything that can be properly called obedience at all… Moreover, if there is anything in Christ’s interposition for our salvation that may be supposed to be called ‘passive’ obedience, as in express contradiction to ‘active’ obedience, it must be his death: and where this impression prevails, it obviously countenances, and indeed suggests, the idea that his death was exclusively passive – that his own activity or agency is not to be recognised in it.”


  3. I’ve never liked the term “passive,” myself. I understand what theologians mean by it, but it sounds like our Lord just hung there on the cross, experiencing no pain or agony at all – either physical or mental. But, the term is too entrenched to be able to do away with it now.


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