Last week we played the game, Who is George Smeaton? To be honest, I had not heard of him until recently. Now I know more about the 19th century Scottish theologian and that’s all thanks to the input of TSS readers, the most knowledgeable blog readers on the planet (illustrated by the fact that many of them roast their own coffee beans). Helpful input came flowing from Scottish readers and Brazilian readers and really from readers all over. So thank you!
As you now know, Smeaton’s two books on the atonement serve as the foundation for Jerry Bridges’ new book, The Great Exchange: My Sin for His Righteousness (Crossway: 2007). In the foreword, Sinclair Ferguson says Smeaton’s volumes should be on the shelves of every preacher. “They are treasure troves,” he writes.
Just yesterday in the mail arrived my copy of Smeaton’s 1870 work, The Apostles’ Doctrine of the Atonement (the second volume, Christ’s Doctrine of the Atonement, is currently out of print). As expected, the Smeaton volume was beautifully bound by the Banner in this 1991 reprint featuring a Smyth-sewn binding and cloth cover (remove the unsightly dust cover to see this delicious goodness). The text is a facsimile reproduction of the 1870 edition (see picture). There are brief Scriptural and topical indexes in the back.
To my pleasant surprise, the volume contains a lengthy appendix covering the history of the atonement from the first century through the Reformation period (pp. 479-544). Smeaton begins his historical study this way, “We find, when we make due allowance for erratic tendencies, either of individuals or of sects, through all this time, one harmonious testimony to divine justice and the judicial aspect of Christianity” (p. 480).
As time allows, I plan to write a fuller review, but this quote from the introduction to Apostles’ is a great one, illustrating the ever-present tendency within the church to neglect the doctrine of the penal substitutionary atonement of Christ. The quote stresses our need to linger often at the Cross in our studies, never assuming the importance of the Cross. Written 130 years ago, it’s ever fresh today.
“The design of this work is mainly to demonstrate, in the only way in which this is to be done, the pure biblical doctrine of the atonement. But polemical references are by no means withheld; that is, applications, necessarily brief, of ascertained truth to germinant errors, especially to those subtle forms of error which, in an evangelical guise, and not seldom with exegetical appliances, tend wholly to subvert the elements of substitution and penal visitation, which constitute the very essence of the atonement. It is a remarkable fact that since the Reformation no article has been so much impugned in every variety of form. Till recently this was uniformly done by a class of men who had forfeited all claim to be regarded as either evangelical in sentiment or biblical in doctrine. Within recent memory, however, a new phenomenon has presented itself to the attention of Christendom — a sort of spiritual religion or mystic piety, whose watchword is, spiritual life, divine love, and moral redemption, by a great teacher and ideal man, and absolute forgiveness, as contrasted with everything forensic. It is a Christianity without an atonement; avoiding, whether consciously or unconsciously, the offence of the cross, and bearing plain marks of the Rationalistic soil from which it sprung; and it has found a wide response in every Protestant land.”
– George Smeaton, The Apostles’ Doctrine of the Atonement (Banner of Truth: 1870/1991), vi.