In no one else is salvation

by Paul Peter Waldenström and translated by Mark Safstrom

In 1872, Waldenström published a sermon in Pietisten on the doctrine of the atonement, the “Sermon for the Twentieth Sunday After Trinity.” This sermon launched a debate among revival Christians in Sweden and Swedish immigrants in North America, and came to be consequential in the development of new church institutions, chiefly the Swedish Mission Covenant, in the coming decades. Throughout his career, Waldenström continued to preach on the atonement, revisiting his earlier texts to clarify his views. One example is the following excerpt from a devotional book in 1877 titled I ingen annan är frälsning (“In no one else is salvation”), in which Waldenström reworked and added to his original sermon.

If we consider the heathens, who only have the light of nature in spiritual matters, then we find that they chiefly have the following things in common with what is taught in scripture: first that they sense, that a God exists, on whom they are dependent; second, that they sense that the proper relationship between them and this God has been broken by sin; third, that they sense that their happiness and salvation depends on the restoration of this proper relationship. But beyond these points their ideas lead them astray. They reason that, in the same way that they themselves become bitter in their hearts if someone transgresses against them, and become so full of hatred toward that person that they must be appeased through good deeds if a good relationship between them and the criminal is to be restored, they similarly transfer these feelings to God, thinking that the hindrance for their own salvation is based in a certain cruelty, which has filled the heart of God on account of their sin, and which must therefore be appeased, if they are to be saved. For this reason the heathens also understand the concept of reconciliation, but this is the kind of reconciliation which originates with the human being and seeks to reconcile and appease a cruel god. It is to this end that they offer all of their sacrifices and divine services.

It is onto this scene that God’s kingdom enters and confounds all of this hairsplitting, by preaching a different sermon in the gospels, which exposes the wisdom of the wise as insanity, teaching 1) that through our fall into sin no change entered into the heart of God, 2) that there was therefore no cruelty or wrath on the part of God toward humankind, which through the fall into sin came to obstruct the salvation of humankind, 3) that the change, which occurred at the fall into sin was a change in the human being alone, in that she became sinful as well as fell away from God and the life that is in him, 4) that as a consequence of this, a reconciliation was needed for her salvation, but not a reconciliation that would appease God and present him once again as gracious, but instead which took away the human being’s sin and presented her once again as righteous, 5) that this reconciliation is accomplished in Jesus Christ.

That now through our fall into sin no change from love to wrath has entered into the heart of God toward humankind, this we could certainly already know from the fact that throughout scripture it is indicated that God is unchanging. He remains who he is, regardless of whether humankind stands or falls. But what is more, scripture witnesses to this with definitive words. So says John: “God is love,” not simply, “God loves,” no, but instead that in his very essence, eternal and unchanging, that he is love, and can never cease to be love, without at the same time ceasing to be God. Likewise, the Lord himself says about the basis of our reconciliation: “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son.” But if he loved the world, the fallen world, such that he offered his only begotten Son for its salvation, then that would of course mean that he loved the world despite its fall, and in that case no change would have taken place in his heart on account of the fall.

Here one might object, “certainly God loved the world after its fall, but he was able to do that because he was able to foresee the sacrifice of the Son, whom he had decided to give when he foresaw the fall of humankind.” But on this point it is appropriate to do what one must in spiritual matters and questions, to make the main focus: Where is this written? And further: When God foresaw the fall of humankind and for that reason decided to give his Son, what was it, which moved him to that decision? Was it anything other than his love for this human being, whom he foresaw lying in her fall? Truly, here we even see behind this eternal decision once again to the only foundation: “God so loved the world.” And here we must stop, for to ask what the foundation is for God’s love, this is to ask, why God is God. “God loved, because he loved, and therefore he gave his Son,” says Rosenius, quite to the point.

From all this it is now clear that the hindrance for the salvation of the world never was any wrath toward it in God’s heart. Certainly the scriptures give witness that through the fall of the world, a hindrance was laid for its salvation, in that a wall of division was raised between the world and God. But this hindrance and this wall of division was never comprised of that God’s heart was overcome by any wrath toward the world. No, here this love remained so unchanged, that even after the fall of humankind in the fullness of time, this love found its highest expression, namely in the giving of the only begotten Son. From this it also follows that the reconciliation, which occurred in the giving of the Son, never in any proper sense had the aim of reconciling or appeasing God. For how should he be reconciled, who loved, and loved to the point that his heart burst with mercy toward the sinner?

“But,” someone might say, “what becomes of all of scripture’s talk concerning God’s wrath?” Answer: God’s wrath is spoken about in two ways, namely partly as a wrath over sin partly as a wrath over the sinner. Regarding God’s wrath over sin, we understand that this cannot through Christ be taken away. God must hate sin, as long as he is the holy God. Wrath over sin is, in other words, the backside of love for righteousness. Where the latter is, there must the former also be. Regarding God’s wrath over the sinner, this can only be spoken about in this meaning, that the one who enters into sin, is afflicted by this wrath of God over sin. And this relationship has not been changed by Christ’s death. The wages of sin for the sinner, who through unbelief remains in sin, are still today the wrath of God and death; the apostle’s words still apply: “the mind of the flesh is death; if you live according to the flesh, you will die; what a human sows, she will also reap,” and so on. Where sin is, there God’s wrath remains unchanged, as certainly as God is a righteous God. And to be saved from this wrath, this can take place only by being justified from sin (Romans 5:9). Indeed, even when the only begotten Son gave himself and descended into our sin, then he too was afflicted by this curse and God’s wrath, which is over sin. But as has been said, this is properly speaking God’s wrath over sin and not over the sinner. Entirely as a father’s wrath over his child is not a wrath over the child but rather over its sin, even though it might be referred to as a wrath over the child, and even though it yet afflicts the child who is sinning. But regarding the child’s person, in his heart there is nothing but burning love and mercy…

Nevertheless, humankind needed to be reconciled in order to be saved, including that her sins needed to be taken away, so that she might not need to be eternally and helplessly afflicted by God’s wrath, which is over sin. And Christ was given to serve this purpose, as John says, “He is reconciliation for our sins and not only for our sins but for the entire world’s.” Therefore we must, on the other hand, watch out for making the error that the giving of the Son was merely a demonstration of love from God’s side. Scripture teaches with clear and definitive words, that it was a sacrifice of reconciliation. But observe this, that it was not God, who through this sacrifice would be appeased, but instead it was humankind, who through this should be made righteous, which was necessary if she was to be saved at all. For it was on her side that the hindrance lay, namely it was her sin. It was humankind alone and not God who, on the day of the fall, fell out of goodness. It was she, who became God’s enemy and went away from him, but not he, who became her enemy and went away from her. No, when she went away as his enemy, even then he so loved her, that through Christ, he pursued her in order to take away, not his wrath, but instead her sins. For when he gave his Son, it was not a matter of finding a person, on whom he could quench his wrath, if he was to again be able to love the world, but instead to find a person, through whom he could save humankind, the fallen child, whom he loved unchangingly, because he is love.

Otherwise, Christ would not be our savior, but instead God’s savior. Therefore, in his suffering our Lord Jesus is not our substitute to take away God’s wrath, but instead God’s substitute to take away our sins, and in so far as he is our substitute, then it is our sins that he bears, for us that he suffers and becomes cursed. In his being raised up, however, he is our substitute with the Father, and this is as our righteousness.*… For when he came in human form, he came on God’s behalf as his only begotten Son, sent by him to take away our sins, but when he will return in divinity, he will return, so to say, on our behalf as our brother, to be our eternally valid righteousness before the father…

But if someone asks, is it entirely incorrect to say, that it is God who became reconciled in Christ? No, certainly. Here what Luther says can apply, “Everything depends upon a good interpreter.” If it is understood this way, that God’s demand for righteousness has been satisfied through the worthy work of Christ, then certainly this expression can properly be used. In this meaning we know also how many evangelical preachers, in particular Rosenius, have made use of this to the upbuilding of countless souls. Scripture teaches namely, that salvation is based in the living union of the soul with God. But because God is righteous, no such blessed union can be given to the sinful human being, because for the sinner God’s righteousness is no blessedness, but instead an all-consuming fire. If the sinner therefore is to come into blessed union with God, then precisely because God is righteous, the sinner’s sin must be taken away and he be presented as righteous, as God is. And this has been accomplished through the fact that God laid the sin on his only begotten Son and allowed him also thereby to be afflicted by the wrath of God, which unchangeably rests over sin (2 Cor 5:21; Gal 3:13). In this way it was precisely a result of God’s righteousness that the removal of sin became a necessary condition for the salvation of humankind. In this meaning, it becomes accurate to say that through Christ’s reconciliation, God’s demand for righteousness became satisfied, not out of some demand by God for revenge on the sinner – after all God loved him – but instead out of the demand of God’s righteousness that the sinner be justified as a condition for his salvation. Out of his unchanging fatherly love, God willed the salvation of humankind, but since he was righteous, she could not become saved as long as she was sinful. Now, however, since the sin has been taken away, the transgression covered over, and the misdeed reconciled, it is not in conflict with God’s righteousness. Indeed, neither is it merely in agreement with God’s righteousness, but purely and simply is a necessary result of God’s righteousness, that the one who is of the faith of Jesus will be saved, no matter how wretched he is in himself. For in this faith, he is no longer a sinner but righteous, for he is in Christ and Christ’s righteousness. But where righteousness is, there God’s righteousness is sheer delight, life, and blessedness, just as surely as the same righteousness of God is sheer wrath, death, and condemnation wherever unrighteousness is. We do not need to sing, as our hymnal does, that “grace goes in place of justice.” No, as true as it is that God is righteousness, shall the one who believes in Jesus be saved. The deliverance we have is so complete, such that John says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, such that he will forgive our sins” (1 John 9). And Paul shows in Romans 3:25-26, that God presented Christ as the mercy seat [nådastol] in demonstration of his righteousness, both in that he had overlooked the sins committed during the days of the Old Testament, and in that he now will make righteous the one who is of the faith of Jesus…

But if someone says: “how will you explain what it means that Christ has taken away sin?” To this I will reply that this is the very mystery itself, which I cannot explain – but it is enough for me that it is written so. Those people who speak of the appeasement of God’s wrath are equally unable to fathom or explain that concept, however much they think they are able to do so. And even if they could, I would yet live much more securely upon that which God has said than upon that which they have been able to explain

It is in this context that people have also remarked, saying: “What then is to be made of Christ’s bloody struggle in Gethsemane, indeed all of his suffering, other than a cruel farce, if his work was not to reconcile God?” This question is truly upsetting. When humankind is so fallen, that it can only be through the blood and death of the only begotten Son that she can be saved and restored, and that God would love her so much, that he would even sacrificed his Son, then it sounds horrible when she asks, if this death is nothing more than a cruel farce, because it merely accomplished the blotting out of her sins.

Then people have also asked: “Have you considered the consequences that the teaching you are promoting will have on the doctrine of righteousness by faith?” In answer to that question, I would pose this question in return: On what foundation does that doctrine stand most securely – on the foundation that in Christ’s death, God was appeased, or on the foundation that in Christ’s death the race of Adam was made righteous? On the former foundation, that there can be no higher doctrine built than exemption-from-punishment by faith [straffrihet genom tron]; the latter foundation alone is sufficient to support the doctrine: justification by faith – and that is more, infinitely much more.