(§ 1). Fundamental Ideas. The Christian religion, though not the exclusive possessor of the idea of redemption, has given to it a special definiteness and a dominant position. If the term be taken in its widest sense, as deliverance from dangers and ills in general, scarcely any religion is wholly without it. It assumes an important position, however, only when the ills in question form part of a great system against which human power is helpless. This may be carried so far that every act of the religious life is contemplated in connection with the idea of redemption, as is the case with Buddhism. The doctrine assumes a higher form when it includes or principally considers deliverance from evil. The religion of Israel shows a progressive development from a mainly eudemonistic to a mainly ethical conception; and it is of the essence of Christianity to regard redemption as primarily a deliverance from sin, upon which freedom from other ills follows as a consequence. Where a decided ethical significance is given to the term, two separate lines of thought are followed out, each connected with a separate conception of sin. On the one hand, sin is a condition which appears in the light of religion as a painful burden; on the other, it is a personal act of the will, which brings with it the consciousness of guilt. Inasmuch as to this is attached the torturing consciousness of separation from God, the desire for its removal becomes the dominant thought. The fundamental question of religion, then, is the possibility of reconciliation, while sin as a condition stands first of the ills from which man seeks deliverance. In the most developed form of an ethical redemptive religion the thought of reconciliation is thus preeminent. Such a religion has the deepest conception of sin as an offense against the moral authority of God, and the highest personally ethical idea of salvation as a relation of peace resting upon the gracious disposition of God. This being the conception which is characteristic of Christianity, it would be more fitting to consider Christianity a religion of reconciliation than of redemption, in which respect it rises far above Buddhism, which is a religion of redemption.
(§ 2). Cognate Ideas. It will, therefore, be well to determine the relation of the terms "redemption" and "reconciliation" or "atonement" in Christian dogmatics. The actual use is somewhat lacking in precision, largely on account of the way in which they are used in the New Testament, which employs katallagē, for the decisive change in the relation of man to God, through which eirēnē, "peace," is substituted for echthra, "hostile" (Rom. v. 10, 11; II Cor. v. 18-20), and deliverance from impending judgment ensues (Rom. v. 9). On the other hand, apolutrōsis sometimes refers to the atoning work of Christ as the ground of the forgiveness of sins (Rom. iii. 24; Eph. i. 7; Col. i. 14; Heb. ix. 15), and sometimes to the final deliverance from the pressure of conditions here (Rom. viii. 23; I Cor. i. 30; Eph. iv. 30). These passages lead to a threefold use of the word--as denoting (1) the entire saving work of Christ, the deliverance from guilt, sin, and evil; (2) the precise method which renders the forgiveness of sins possible, buying back at the price of the death of Christ; (3) the change worked in human destiny by the removal of guilt. In modern theology, despite numerous variations, the weight of usage is in favor of designating by atonement the removal of guilt (not merely of the subjective consciousness of guilt), and by redemption the breaking of the power of sin and the removal of the misery consequent upon its dominion. The former combines the ethical and religious standpoints, the latter the ethical and eudemonistic (see ATONEMENT).
(§ 3). Redemption in the Old Testament. If the idea of redemption be traced through the Scriptures, the belief in Yahweh's redeeming power and purpose is met at the threshold of the national existence of Israel. This existence is established by the redemption of the people from Egyptian slavery, which remains the memorial of their election as the people of God, and the pledge of further deliverances to come. The Jewish idea of redemption is originally political; the object of redemption is the nation, and the foes from whom they are redeemed are national adversaries. In the same form the idea appears after the exile. The subject of Isa. xl.-lxvi. is the redeeming acts of Yahweh, past and future, and all the prophets point to his demonstrated faithfulness as a ground for hope. But with the exile the hope took a new and more spiritual shape. The national misfortunes impressed the people deeply with the conditional nature of the covenant. Israel's guilt separates the people from its God, and only repentance can open the way to new salvation. If God restores his people, it is a sign that he forgives them and takes away their guilt. This forgiveness is based upon the free love of God; it is not gained by the sacrifices of the law, but he regards the sacrifice of his servant, upon whom is laid the iniquity of all. Thus is reached, at the highest point of the Old-Testament doctrine of redemption, the idea of an atonement which is not conditioned upon legal sacrifices and not limited to minor transgressions. Political aspirations are not lacking even here; but the fundamental idea is that of a moral change in the people (Isa. lviii. 6-14). Sin is now recognized as the root of evil, and victory is promised, not merely over national foes, but over man's hereditary enemy, the tempter. But a redemption with moral conditions can no longer be confined to one race; Israel's light is to go out to the heathen. And with this broadening of the conception comes also its individualizing; the individual who trusts in God is to be redeemed by God's intervention from peril and oppression, and even acquires a hope of resurrection from death.
(§ 4). In the New Testament. The form assumed in the New Testament by the idea of redemption is not the logical continuance of this process, but is the result of the revelation of God in Christ. Though the redeemer does not correspond to the expectations of a mighty ruler of David's line, the deeds of healing and help that he performs, and the fatherly love of God that he attests, proclaim him the heaven-sent savior. He himself regards his casting-out of devils as a sign of the opening of a new period of salvation, of the coming of the kingdom of God. Finally he gives his life a ransom for many, making possible a remission of guilt by his voluntary bearing of its consequence. His appearances after his resurrection convince his disciples that he is still to be with them, as the head of his invisible kingdom, to the end of the world. His proclamation of a second coming, upon which are to follow the messianic judgment, the liberation of his people from all oppression, and a change in all the conditions of human life (Matt. xix. 28), does not alter the fact that redemption in its fullest sense is the work of his first coming. Accordingly, in the apostolic preaching the main points are the death of Christ as the basis of the atonement, his resurrection as the ground of a new and spiritual life for his disciples, and his second coming, which shall remove the oppression of evil. In other words, the New-Testament conception of redemption puts first the idea of relief from guilt, next that of deliverance from the power of sin, and last the removal of evil. Such a religious-ethical redemption can of course be limited to no one nation, but begins to realize itself wherever faith in the redeemer is present and an entrance into his world-wide kingdom is gained.
In Christian theology the doctrine of redemption has a different history from that of the atonement. While in the latter is concentrated the struggle to balance the religious and the ethical elements in the idea of salvation, the certainty of redemption is always a fixed background of the Christian consciousness; and the historical development is chiefly interesting for the way in which the recognition of the personal ethical nature of salvation, sharply emphasized by Paul but early obscured, came gradually into full light once more.
(§ 5). In the Early Church and the East. The idea of redemption entertained by primitive Christianity is predominantly eschatological. The believers feel themselves strangers in the world, the destruction of which is at hand, and await their blessedness in the approaching messianic kingdom. The Redeemer has indeed brought to his people knowledge and life (Didache, ix., x.); but the latter is more an object of hope than an actual experience; forgiveness of sins is connected with moral change and fulfillment of the new law. The Hellenic conception of the Christian message by the apologists brought prominently forward the knowledge imparted by Christ, who, as the perfect teacher, shows the way to "incorruption" by giving his disciples power to overcome evil spirits and walk in the path of moral purity. This intellectual-moral conception of redemption, typically represented by Justin, had a long life in the Eastern Church, but only a subsidiary influence. The development of dogma was determined by the mystic-realistic conception, as worked out by Irenæus in Pauline phraseology. For him, too, immortality is the goal, which is brought about by an entire re- construction of humanity on a higher plane; humanity is placed once more in the right relation to God and receives again his image and a share in his own immortality. Irenæus touches on reconciliation, but lays most stress on the removal of death. How little Greek theology, with its lack of a deep consciousness of guilt, was qualified to develop the latter may be seen in Origen, for whom the teaching office of Christ is still central. The treatise of Athanasius on the incarnation approaches more closely to the idea of reconciliation than does Irenæus; but even in him the leading ideas are the restoration of the true knowledge of God by the life, and the abolition of death by the death of Christ. A special place is held in eastern doctrine by the notion that the death of Christ was a purchase-price paid to the devil for the setting free of man, who had fallen into his power. This idea, wide-spread in the East, is supported by Origen and Gregory of Nyssa, while Gregory Nazianzen and John of Damascus repudiate it; in the West it was accepted by Ambrose, Augustine, Leo I., and Gregory I. At bottom only an extension of the common Greek idea of liberation from pagan ignorance and the dominion of death, it yet shows consciousness of the need of an equitable basis for the redemption, and leads up to the juristic theories developed in the West.
(§ 6). In the West till the Reformation. Western writers were led by their realization of sin as guilt to regard the removal of guilt as the principal feature in the work of redemption. Even as early as Tertullian and Cyprian, it was interpreted in legal terms; and before long there grew up the conception of a legal satisfaction made by Christ to God. This begins with Cyprian and is carried on by Hilary and Ambrose. Augustine takes the legal view in conjunction with a mystical doctrine of salvation, and thus weakens it to some extent. For him redemption is a change in the religious-ethical state, involving freedom from the devil's power and a progressive repletion with divine strength. He has in his mind a personal relation of peace with God, but this aspect of salvation he does not carry out to definite dogmatic conclusions. The juristic idea of western theology was further developed by Anselm, who did not, however, succeed in deducing from the remission of sin an interior change in the sinner. The formal juristic treatment does not penetrate the depths of the religious-ethical process. Anselm's theory, therefore, called out an opposing theory from Abelard, resting wholly on the love of God, and was accepted by later medieval theologians only with modifications and additions. Thomas Aquinas regards as the results of Christ's sufferings the forgiveness of sins, deliverance from the power of the devil, the removal of the penalty of sin, reconciliation, and the opening of the gates of heaven. He connects the ideas of reconciliation and redemption, but makes "remission of blame" less important than "infusion of grace" and the consequent ethical movement of the will. The historical redeeming work of Christ is presented only as a distant condition precedent to salvation, the actual accomplishment of which follows on the supplying of grace through the medium of the Church. Although mysticism attempted to satisfy the craving for redemption partly by evasion of the Church's mediation and partly by pressing it into the service of the inner life, it failed to reach a personal ethical conception of redemption, because it placed the ethical and mystical union with God above the remission of sin.
(§ 7). Reformation and Later Doctrine. Luther, on the other hand, made the remission of guilt accomplished by Christ's intervention the fundamental principle. The holy sufferer bears the wrath of God and satisfies his justice; but he is also the mighty conqueror who delivers us from our tyrants-the law, sin, death, the devil, and hell-and so abolishes, with sin and guilt, all the powers of evil whose dominion was founded by the fall of man. His great conception was only partially adopted by Protestant dogmatics. Melanchthon merely developed the notion of legal atonement as a necessary condition of forensic justification. Osiander was unable to bring out clearly the relation between the objective fact of redemption and the subjective justification. The more the doctrine of redemption was dominated by the idea of satisfaction, the less was it possible to include in a dogmatic system the whole train of salutary consequences which Luther connected with it. The doctrine of the royal office of the exalted savior gave the most room for them; but it considered redemption as but supplementary to the historical work of salvation. In opposition to this, Pietism, with its special interest in sanctification and in eschatology, paid great attention to the doctrine of redemption. Rationalism, with its hard morality, lost all understanding of the remission of sin and thus of redemption. Kant's deeper moral conception came near postulating this grace for the eradication of evil; but his fixed principle of moral autonomy caused him to reduce what for him was the symbolic language of dogma to interior moral processes. Schleiermacher taught his followers to recognize the central point of the Christian faith; but his optimistic conception of sin as an inevitable stage in human development, his half-pantheistic idea of God, and his naturalistic-esthetic notion of the religious and moral life prevented him from fully realizing the Christian doctrine of redemption. The newer dogmatic writers have in great part striven to recover more fully the Scriptural and the Reformation conceptions of the subject.
(§ 8). Requirements of the Doctrine. It is essential to the completeness of the Christian doctrine of salvation that it should teach not only a reconciliation of man with God but a redemption as well, which transforms the whole life of the redeemed and their relation to the world. Redemption in its inmost, religious sense is reconciliation, the change in man's relation to God by the removal of the guilt of sin. Redemption in its ethical and its eschatological meanings is the consequence of this. But the close connection of these elements can be preserved only when the atonement is regarded as the pledge and the beginning of a new development for humanity. The believer, his sins forgiven, is transplanted with his risen Lord into the supernatural kingdom of God; the dominion of sin is broken forever in him; the source of his life is not in this world but in that which is above. Such a redemption carries with it the abolition of evil, which is already, so far as it is the positive penalty of sin, removed with sin. The common ills of life are no longer penalties to the believer, since they cannot harm his relation to God. Even death has to the Christian no longer the character of a punishment, since his real life already belongs to the other world. The entire removal of evil is hindered partly by the results of past sins, partly by the coexistence in the world of those who reject salvation. The older Protestant dogmatics, therefore, in harmony with the New Testament, looked for the conclusion of the process of salvation to follow upon the second coming of Christ. Modern writers, inclining to dispute the universal connection of evil with sin, and looking with Schleiermacher for a merely subjective conquest of it, do not feel justified in including a positive abolition of evil in the idea of redemption. But the hope is inseparable from Christian belief that God will create new surroundings for the new life of his children, which shall correspond to their higher nature and allow it to develop freely and fully. In this connection with redemption lies the real foundation of Christian eschatology.