Our Faith by Emil Brunner
Emil Brunner is one of the great systematic theologians of the early twentieth century. Our Faith was translated by John W. Rilling, and published by Charles Scribner’s Sons, NY, 1954. This book prepared for Religion Online by Paul Mobley.
Chapter 18: The Mediator
The power of evil is in our guilt. Having erred we cannot make our wrong good, henceforth we have no power over it. Our evil now belongs to the past, it is now written yonder in eternity. As every mile a man drives in his car is automatically registered upon the speedometer, so everything we do is somehow "registered" in eternity, to appear for the first time on the Judgment Day. As soon as a thing is done, it is re- corded, and no repentance can alter the record in the slightest degree. It stands there and testifies against us -- guilty!
This "register" in the realm of eternity has, more- over, another uncomfortable feature. It not only registers what men see in me, but what God sees in me. Like the X-ray that reveals the inner parts that otherwise re- main invisible, God looks upon the heart. Thy heart, O man! Does that not frighten you? Does that not cause despair? "For in thy sight. Lord, shall no man living be justified." Make no mistake about it, on that register is written our death sentence. When God makes up the account, there can be no other statement than -- unfaithful! unfaithful! cast out!
That is what conscience tells us. In these days conscience seems to judge less severely. Who in our time ever thinks of Hell, or of being lost? Old wives' tales! We understand how to manipulate the register so that nothing causes us alarm. But such manipulation with the conscience really profits nothing. The register in eternity still shows the judgment -- lost. Conscience still informs us secretly -- thou hast not taken God's will in earnest. Thou canst not stand in His judgment. And secretly every one feels this. There is no one who does not fear God -- even those who deny God and laugh at faith in God. Beneath the surface, deep down in the soul, dwells the fear of God, the fear of being lost. Our conscience tells us that; it is -- as Paul expressed it once, "the handwriting . . . against us" (Col. 2:14); such is the meaning of the word guilt.
What does God say to all this? He tells us that the voice within speaks truly. The conscience that accuses us does not lie. That meter, upon which our guilt mounts like the mileage of the automobile, is God's instrument. We said that conscience registers what God sees, what God says. In God's chancery the death sentence against us is made up.
"Yes, but...." Have we any right to say "Yes, but"? Is it possible that God "may not be so strict," and, as the saying is, "may stretch a point in our favor"? The judgment, "the handwriting against us" is finished and signed by God. But.....
But, Jesus Christ, the crucified hath "forgiven you all trespasses; blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us......and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross." Not as though the sentence of death were meaningless. Registered means surely that from our point of view we are guilty and lost. Precisely this is what God wants to tell us by the cross of His Son.
God will not wink at evil. He takes our guilt seriously. Even for Him it is nothing inconsiderable. He cannot and will not tear up the "manuscript." He could no doubt do so, but for our sakes He will not. For we should then take guilt too lightly, and God desires to show us that what is written on the manuscript is correct. He will even carry out the judgment. But......over all stands His forgiving father love.
He will not destroy the manuscript that testifies against us, but He will destroy its power by a higher power. He has "nailed it to the cross" that we might see both our guilt and His even greater mercy; the earnestness of His holy will and the even greater earnestness of His fatherly love. That is the message of Jesus Christ, the Mediator.
Suppose a farmhand set fire to his master's barn. The man is liable for the damages with all that he has. The master could take everything the servant has -- shoes, clothing, money, and say, "All of this is only a small part of what my servant really owes me. And now let the scoundrel get out of my sight!" But the master does nothing of the sort, takes nothing away. He rather says to his faithless servant, "I will take everything upon myself; I will pay everything." And then the servant opens his eyes in amazement; for he sees what a good master he has.
God dealt with us in this way through Jesus Christ. He has taken everything upon Himself; He has Himself borne the curse of sin that we should have carried. Jesus went to the cross, because man could not have endured the presence of God. In permitting himself to be crucified Jesus both brought God nearer, and himself showed man more clearly his distance from God. The manuscript that testifies against us, is there displayed, legible to all, our death sentence. And at the same time it is destroyed, God loves you in spite of all. God's son had to go through this shambles really to come near to us. All this was necessary that we men might see God and ourselves, God in His love, and ourselves in our godlessness. Apart from the cross on Golgotha we should know neither our condition nor the boundlessness of God's love. God and man can there be seen together -- human misery and perdition, and God's presence and ineffable love. Jesus reveals both us and God on the Cross. And by that act he accomplishes the greatest thing possible: he brings man back again to God.
He accomplishes "the atonement through his blood." As a mother follows her lost child in all its misery, filth and shame, so, too, God in Jesus Christ came into our condition to be wholly with us. Thus Jesus, the crucified, is the promised "God with us" or "Immanuel" and Golgotha the one place in all the world where we may behold the mystery of divine Love. Who -- we? I will say it more correctly -- you, if you permit God to tell you by name that this was done because you need it, and because God loves you.