"...if we be honest with ourselves,
we shall be honest with each other." ~ George MacDonald
"...if we be honest with ourselves,
we shall be honest with each other." ~ George MacDonald


"Are you sure it was God, Ian?" she said.

The voice she heard was weak and broken, reedy and strained, like the voice of one all but dead.

"No, mother," answered Ian, "but I hope it was."

"Hopes, my dear boy, are not to be trusted."

"That is true, mother; and yet we are saved by hope."

"We are saved by faith."

"I do not doubt it."

"You rejoice my heart. But faith in what?"

"Faith in God, mother."

"That will not save you."

"No, but God will."

"The devils believe in God, and tremble."

"I believe in the father of Jesus Christ, and do not tremble."

"You ought to tremble before an unreconciled God."

"Like the devils, mother?"

"Like a sinful child of Adam. Whatever your fancies, Ian, God will not hear you, except you pray to him in the name of his Son."

"Mother, would you take my God from me? Would you blot him out of the deeps of the universe?"

"Ian! are you mad? What frightful things you would lay to my charge!"

"Mother, I would gladly—oh how gladly! perish for ever, to save God from being the kind of God you would have me believe him. I love God, and will not think him other than good. Rather than believe he does not hear every creature that cries to him, whether he knows Jesus Christ or not, I would believe there was no God, and go mourning to my grave."

"That is not the doctrine of the gospel."

"It is, mother: Jesus himself says, 'Every one that hath heard and learned of the Father, cometh unto me.'"

"Why then do you not come to him, Ian?"

"I do come to him; I come to him every day. I believe in nobody but him. He only makes the universe worth being, or any life worth living!"

"Ian, I can NOT understand you! If you believe like that about him,—"

"I don't believe ABOUT him, mother! I believe in him. He is my life."

"We will not dispute about words! The question is, do you place your faith for salvation in the sufferings of Christ for you?"

"I do not, mother. My faith is in Jesus himself, not in his sufferings."

"Then the anger of God is not turned away from you."

"Mother, I say again—I love God, and will not believe such things of him as you say. I love him so that I would rather lose him than believe so of him."

"Then you do not accept the Bible as your guide?"

"I do, mother, for it tells me of Jesus Christ. There is no such teaching as you say in the Bible."

"How little you know your New Testament!"

"I don't know my New Testament! It is the only book I do know! I read it constantly! It is the only thing I could not live without!—No, I do not mean that! I COULD do without my Testament! Christ would BE all the same!"

"Oh, Ian! Ian! and yet you will not give Christ the glory of satisfying divine justice by his suffering for your sins!"

"Mother, to say that the justice of God is satisfied with suffering, is a piece of the darkness of hell. God is willing to suffer, and ready to inflict suffering to save from sin, but no suffering is satisfaction to him or his justice."

"What do you mean by his justice then?"

"That he gives you and me and everybody fair play."

The homeliness of the phrase offended the moral ear of the mother.

"How dare you speak lightly of HIM in my hearing!" she cried.

"Because I will speak for God even to the face of my mother!" answered Ian. "He is more to me than you, mother—ten times more."

"You speak against God, Ian," she rejoined, calmed by the feeling she had roused.

"No, mother. He speaks against God who says he does things that are not good. It does not make a thing good to call it good. I speak FOR him when I say he cannot but give fair play. He knows he put me where I was sure to sin; he will not condemn me because I have sinned; he leaves me to do that myself. He will condemn me only if I do not turn away from sin, for he has made me able to turn from it, and I do."

"He will forgive sin only for Christ's sake."

"He forgives it for his own name's sake, his own love's sake. There is no such word as FOR CHRIST'S SAKE in the New Testament—except where Paul prays us for Christ's sake to be reconciled to God. It is in the English New Testament, but not in the Greek."

"Then you do not believe that the justice of God demands the satisfaction of the sinner's endless punishment?"

"I do not. Nothing can satisfy the justice of God but justice in his creature. The justice of God is the love of what is right, and the doing of what is right. Eternal misery in the name of justice could satisfy none but a demon whose bad laws had been broken."

"I grant you that no amount of suffering on the part of the wicked could SATISFY justice; but it is the Holy One who suffers for our sins!"

"Oh, mother! JUSTICE do wrong for its own satisfaction! Did Jesus DESERVE punishment? If not, then to punish him was to wrong him!"

"But he was willing; he consented;"

"He yielded to injustice—but the injustice was man's, not God's. If Justice, insisted on punishment, it would at least insist on the guilty, not the innocent, being punished! it would revolt from the idea of the innocent being punished for the guilty! Mind, I say BEING PUNISHED, not SUFFERING: that is another thing altogether. It is an eternal satisfaction to love to suffer for the guilty, but not to justice that innocence should be punished for the guilty. The whole idea of such atonement is the merest subterfuge, a figment of the paltry human intellect to reconcile difficulties of its own invention. Once, when Alister had done something wrong, my father said, 'He must be punished—except some one will be punished for him!' I offered to take his place, partly that it seemed expected of me, partly that I was moved by vanity, and partly that I foresaw what would follow."

"And what did follow?" asked the mother, to whom the least word out of the past concerning her husband, was like news from the world beyond. At the same time it seemed almost an offence that one of his sons should know anything about him she did not know.

"He scarcely touched me, mother," answered Ian. "The thing taught me something very different from what he had meant to teach by it. That he failed to carry out his idea of justice helped me afterwards to see that God could not have done it either, for that it was not justice. Some perception of this must have lain at the root of the heresy that Jesus did not suffer, but a cloud-phantom took his place on the cross. Wherever people speculate instead of obeying, they fall into endless error."

"You graceless boy! Do you dare to say your father speculated instead of obeying?" cried the mother, hot with indignation.

"No, mother. It was not my father who invented that way of accounting for the death of our Lord."

"He believed it!"

"He accepted it, saturated with the tradition of the elders before he could think for himself. He does not believe it now."

"But why then should Christ have suffered?"

"It is the one fact that explains to me everything," said Ian. "—But I am not going to talk about it. So long as your theory satisfies you, mother, why should I show you mine? When it no longer satisfies you, when it troubles you as it has troubled me, and as I pray God it may trouble you, when you feel it stand between you and the best love you could give God, then I will share my very soul with you—tell you thoughts which seem to sublimate my very being in adoration."

"I do not see what other meaning you can put upon the statement that he was a sacrifice for our sins."

"Had we not sinned he would never have died; and he died to deliver us from our sins. He against whom was the sin, became the sacrifice for it; the Father suffered in the Son, for they are one. But if I could see no other explanation than yours, I would not, could not accept it—for God's sake I would not."

"How can you say you believe in Christ, when you do not believe in the atonement!"

"It is not so, mother. I do not believe what you mean by the atonement; what God means by it, I desire to accept. But we are never told to believe in the atonement; we are told to believe in Christ—and, mother, in the name of the great Father who hears me speak, I do believe in him."

"How can you, when you do not believe what God says about him?"

"I do. God does not say those things about him you think he says. They are mere traditions, not the teaching of those who understood him. But I might believe all about him quite correctly, and yet not believe in him."

"What do you call believing in him, then?"

"Obeying him, mother—to say it as shortly as I can. I try to obey him in the smallest things he says—only there are no small things he says—and so does Alister. I strive to be what he would have me, nor do I hold anything else worth my care. Let a man trust in his atonement to absolute assurance, if he does not do the things he tells him—the very things he said—he does not believe in him. He may be a good man, but he has not yet heard enough and learned enough of the Father to be sent to Jesus to learn more."

"Then I do not believe in him," said the mother, with a strange, sad gentleness—for his words awoke an old anxiety never quite at rest.

Ian was silent. The darkness seemed to deepen around them, and the silence grew keen. The mother began to tremble.

"GOD KNOWS," said Ian at length, and again the broken silence closed around them. (Taken from What's Mine's Mine by George MacDonald).

We are slaves to sin. Only God can save us from our plight.


A Biblical Critique of Penal Substitution


What's Wrong with the Innocent Dying for the Guilty?

The Thief on the Cross

George MacDonald

Believe or Obey?