We noted in our preceding article that, as far as the doctrine of the atonement is concerned as taught in the period, 80-254 A.D., all without exception taught that Christ died for our sins and that His death is a sacrifice for sin, and that redemption and salvation were accomplished not only through His incarnation and by His doctrine and example but also through His death. And we also noted that the doctrine of vicarious satisfaction or atonement was not completely developed or defined in this period.
We first call attention to Ignatius. Almost nothing is known of the personal history of Ignatius. It is re ported of him that he suffered martyrdom shortly after the beginning of the second century. In one of his epistles, emphasizing the reality of the death of Christ, he writes as follows:
But if, as some that are without God, that is, the unbelieving, say, He became man in appearance only, that He did not in reality take unto Him a body, that He died merely in appearance, and did not in very deed suffer, then for what reason am I now in bonds, and long to be exposed to the wild beasts? In such a case, I die in vain, and am guilty of falsehood against the cross of the Lord. Then also does the prophet in vain declare, “They shall look on Him whom they have pierced, and mourn over themselves as over one beloved.” These men, therefore, are not less unbelievers than were those that crucified Him. But as for me, I do not place my hopes in one who died for me in appearance, but in reality. For that which is false is quite abhorrent to the truth.
In an epistle which Ignatius wrote to the Philadelphians, he speaks of redemption through the blood of Christ. He writes:
The priest indeed, and the ministers of the word, are good; but the High Priest is better, to whom the holy of holies has been committed, and who alone has been entrusted with the secrets of God. The ministering powers of God are good. The Comforter is holy, and the Word is holy, the Son of the Father, by whom He made all things, and exercises a providence over them all. This is the Way which leads to the Father, the Rock, the Defense, the Key, the Shepherd, the Sacrifice, the Door of knowledge, through which have entered Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, Moses and all the company of the prophets, and these pillars of the world, the apostles, and the spouse of Christ, on whose account He poured out His own blood, as her marriage portion, that He might redeem her. (we underscore) All these things tend towards the unity of the one and only true God. But the Gospel possesses something transcendent (above the former dispensation), viz., the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, His passion, and the resurrection itself. For those things which the prophets announced, saying, “Until He come for whom it is reserved, and He shall be the expectation of the Gentiles,” have been fulfilled in the Gospel (our Lord saying,) “Go ye and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
In this passage Ignatius speaks of the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ as He poured out His own blood and of redeeming His church. He also writes of all things as tending towards the unity of the one and only true God, inasmuch as also Abraham, Isaac and Jacob have entered through this Way, our Lord Jesus Christ, the High Priest to Whom alone has been entrusted the secrets of the Lord. Of course, we certainly expect these early Church Fathers to speak of Calvary as the sacrifice and redeeming blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. But the exact nature and significance of this sacrifice of Calvary was not completely developed and defined. Exact definitions and development of the truths of the Word of God always take place when these truths are attacked and corrupted by the haters and enemies of the Word of God.
We will quote one more passage from the writings of Ignatius in which he speaks of the glory of the cross. This passage occurs in an epistle which he wrote to the Ephesians:
The cross of Christ is indeed a stumbling-block to those who do not believe, but to the believing it is salvation and life eternal. “Where is the wise man? where is the disputer?” Where is the boasting of those who are called mighty? For the Son of God, who was begotten before time began, and established all things according to the will of the Father, He was conceived in the womb of Mary, according to the appointment of God, of the seed of David, and by the Holy Ghost. For says (the Scripture), “Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and He shall be called Immanuel.” He was born and baptized by John, that He might ratify the institution committed to that prophet.
Another writer who speaks of the sufferings of Christ is Barnabas. Nothing certain is known of this author. His name is Barnabas, but scarcely any scholars now identify him with the friend and companion of Paul on his first missionary journey. Writing on the New Covenant, founded on the sufferings of Christ, he writes as follows:
For to this end the Lord endured to deliver up His flesh to corruption, that we might be sanctified through the remission of sins, which is effected by His blood of sprinkling. For it is written concerning Him, partly with reference to Israel, and partly to us; and (the Scripture) saith thus: “He was wounded for our transgressions, and bruised for our iniquities: with His stripes we are healed. He was brought as a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb which is dumb before its shearer.
It is well to call attention to the fact that these early Church Fathers were familiar with the Scriptures of the Old Testament. They quote profusely from them, and this is something which we may well emulate, although it is true that they are fond of allegorizing, of attributing to the Scriptures a deep and mysterious meaning. But they do quote the Scriptures. This appears also from the following quotation from the same author, in which he writes of the suffering of Christ and of the New Covenant as announced by the prophets:
When, therefore, He has fulfilled the commandment, what saith He? “Who is he that will contend with Me? let him oppose Me: or who is he that will enter into judgment with Me? let him draw near to the servant of the Lord.” —
“Woe unto you, for ye shall all wax old, like a garment, and the moth shall eat you up.” —
And again the prophet says, “Since as a mighty stone He is laid for crushing, behold I cast down for the foundation of Zion a stone, precious, elect, a cornerstone, honourable.” Next, what says He? “And he who shall trust in it shall live for ever.” —
Is our hope, then, upon a stone? Far from it. But (the language is used) inasmuch as He laid His flesh (as a foundation) with power; for He says, “And He placed me as a firm rock.”—
And the prophet says again, “The stone which the builders rejected, the same has become the head of the corner.” —
. . . . What, then, again says the prophet? “The assembly of the wicked surrounded me; they encompassed me; they encompassed me as bees do a honeycomb, and upon my garment they cast lots.” —
Since, therefore, He was about to be manifested and to suffer in the flesh, His suffering was foreshown.
We wish to quote the following from the same author, because we believe it to be a vivid example of allegorizing. The author is writing of the red heifer as a type of Jesus Christ:
Now what do you suppose this to be a type of, that a command was given to Israel, that men of the greatest wickedness should offer a heifer, and slay and burn it, and that then boys should take the ashes, and put these into vessels, and bind round a stick purple wool along with hyssop, and that thus the boys should sprinkle the people, one by one, in order that they might be purified from their sins? Consider how He speaks to you with simplicity. The calf is Jesus: the sinful men offering it are those who led Him to the slaughter. But now the men are no longer guilty, are no longer regarded as sinners. And the boys that sprinkle are those that have proclaimed to us the remissions of sins and purification of heart. To these He gave authority to preach the Gospel, being twelve in number, corresponding to the twelve tribes of Israel. But why are there three boys that sprinkle? To correspond to Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, because these were great with God. And why was the wool placed upon the wood? Because by wood Jesus holds His kingdom, so that (through the cross) those believing on Him shall live for ever. But why was hyssop joined with the wool? Because in His kingdom the days will be evil and polluted in which we shall be saved, (and) because he who suffers in body is cured through the cleansing efficacy of hyssop. And on this account the things which stand thus are clear to us, but obscure to them, because they did not hear the voice of the Lord.
Writing of Baptism and the cross as prefigured in the Old Testament, this same writer has the following:
Let us further inquire whether the Lord took any care to foreshadow the water (of baptism) and the cross. Concerning the water, indeed, it is written, in reference to the Israelites, that they should not receive that baptism which leads to the remission of sins, but should procure another for themselves . . . Further, what says He? “And there was a river flowing on the right, and from it arose beautiful trees; and whosoever shall eat of them shall live for ever.” —
This meaneth, that we indeed descend into the water full of sins and defilement, but come up, bearing fruit in our heart, having the fear of God and trust in Jesus in our spirit.
And the same writer, writing on the cross of Christ as frequently announced in the Old Testament, has the following:
In like manner He points to the cross of Christ in another prophet, who saith, “And when shall these things be accomplished? And the Lord saith, When a tree shall be bent down, and again arise, and when blood shall flow out of wood (this is a quotation by Barnabas from some unknown apocryphal book). Here again you have an intimation concerning the cross, and Him who should be crucified. Yet again He speaks of this in Moses, when Israel was attacked by strangers. And that He might remind them, when assailed, that it was on account of their sins they were delivered to death, the Spirit speaks to the heart of Moses, that He should make a figure of the cross, and of Him about to suffer thereon; for unless they put their trust in Him, they shall be overcome. Moses therefore placed one weapon above another in the midst of the hill, and standing upon it, so as to be higher than all the people, he stretched forth his hands, and thus again Israel acquired the mastery.
The reference in the above quotation is to Israel’s victory over the Amalekites in the wilderness. Another bit of allegorizing. However, the early Church Fathers certainly speak of the cross, but they do not define it completely and distinctively.