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Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary

Reconciliation

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The expressions "reconciliation" and "making peace" necessarily suppose a previous state of hostility between God and man, which is reciprocal. This is sometimes called enmity, a term, as it respects God, rather unfortunate, since enmity is almost fixed in our language to signify a malignant and revengeful feeling. Of this, the oppugners of the doctrine of the atonement have availed themselves to argue, that as there can be no such affection in the divine nature, therefore, reconciliation in Scripture does not mean the reconciliation of God to man, but of man to God, whose enmity the example and teaching of Christ, they tell us, is very effectual to subdue. It is, indeed, a sad and humbling truth, and one which the Socinians in their discussions on the natural innocence of man are not willing to admit that by the infection of sin "the carnal mind is enmity to God," that human nature is malignantly hostile to God and to the control of his law; but this is far from expressing the whole of that relation of man in which, in Scripture, he is said to be at enmity with God, and so to need a reconciliation, the making of peace between God and him. That relation is a legal one, as that of a sovereign in his judicial capacity, and a criminal who has violated his laws and risen up against his authority, and who is, therefore, treated as an enemy. The word εχθρος is used in this passive sense, both in the Greek writers and in the New Testament. So, in Romans 11:28 , the Jews, rejected and punished for refusing the Gospel, are said by the Apostle, "as concerning the Gospel," to be "enemies for your sakes;" treated and accounted such; "but, as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers' sakes." In the same epistle, Romans 5:10 , the term is used precisely in the same sense, and that with reference to the reconciliation by Christ: "For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son;" that is, when we were objects of the divine judicial displeasure, accounted as enemies, and liable to be capitally treated as such. Enmity, in the sense of malignity and the sentiment of hatred, is added to this relation in the case of man; but it is no part of the relation itself: it is rather a case of it, as it is one of the actings of a corrupt nature which render man obnoxious to the displeasure of God, and the penalty of his law, and place him in the condition of an enemy. It is this judicial variance and opposition between God and man which is referred to in the term reconciliation, and in the phrase "making peace," in the New Testament; and the hostility is, therefore, in its own nature, mutual.

But that there is no truth in the notion, that reconciliation means no more than our laying aside our enmity to God, may also be shown from several express passages. The first is the passage we have above cited: "For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God," Romans 5:10 . Here the act of reconciling is ascribed to God, and not to us; but if this reconciliation consisted in the laying aside of our own enmity, the act would be ours alone: and, farther, that it could not be the laying aside of our enmity, is clear from the text, which speaks of reconciliation while we were yet enemies. The reconciliation spoken of here is not, as Socinus and his followers have said, our conversion. For that the Apostle is speaking of a benefit obtained for us previous to our conversion, appears evident from the opposite members of the two sentences, "much more, being justified, we shall be saved from wrath through him," "much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life." The Apostle argues from the greater to the less. If God were so benign to us before our conversion, what may we not expect from him now we are converted? To reconcile here cannot mean to convert; for the Apostle evidently speaks of something greatly remarkable in the act of Christ; but to convert sinners is nothing remarkable, since none but sinners can be ever converted; whereas it was a rare and singular thing for Christ to die for sinners, and to reconcile sinners to God by his death, when there have been but very few good men who have died for their friends. In the next place, conversion is referred more properly to his glorious life, than to his shameful death; but this reconciliation is attributed to his death, as contradistinguished from his glorious life, as is evident from the antithesis contained in the two verses. Beside, it is from the latter benefit that we learn the nature of the former. The latter, which belongs only to the converted, consists of the peace of God, and salvation from wrath, Romans 5:9-10 . This the Apostle afterward calls receiving the reconciliation. And what is it to receive the reconciliation, but to receive the remission of sins? Acts 10:43 . To receive conversion is a mode of speaking entirely unknown. If, then, to receive the reconciliation is to receive the remission of sins, and in effect to be delivered from wrath or punishment, to be reconciled must have a corresponding signification.

"God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them," 2 Corinthians 5:19 . Here the manner of this reconciliation is expressly said to be, not our laying aside our enmity, but the non-imputation of our trespasses to us by God; in other words, the pardoning of our offences and restoring us to favour. The promise, on God's part, to do this, is expressive of his previous reconciliation to the world by the death of Christ; for our actual reconciliation is distinguished from this by what follows, "and hath committed to us the ministry of reconciliation," by virtue of which all men were, by the Apostles, entreated and besought to be reconciled to God. The reason, too, of this reconciliation of God to the world, by virtue of which he promises not to impute sin, is grounded by the Apostle, in the last verse of the chapter, not upon the laying aside of enmity by men, but upon the sacrifice of Christ: "For he hath made him to be sin," a sin-offering, "for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him." "And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby," Ephesians 2:16 . Here the act of reconciling is attributed to Christ. Man is not spoken of as reconciling himself to God; but Christ is said to reconcile Jews and Gentiles together, and both to God, "by his cross." Thus, says the Apostle, "he is our peace;" but in what manner is the peace effected? Not, in the first instance, by subduing the enmity of man's heart, but by removing the enmity of "the law." "Having abolished in" or by "his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments." The ceremonial law only is here, probably meant; for by its abolition, through its fulfilment in Christ, the enmity between Jews and Gentiles was taken away; but still it was not only necessary to reconcile Jew and Gentile together, but to "reconcile both unto God." This he did by the same act; abolishing the ceremonial law by becoming the antitype of all its sacrifices, and thus, by the sacrifice of himself, effecting the reconciliation of all to God, "slaying the enmity by his cross," taking away whatever hindered the reconciliation of the guilty to God, which, as we have seen, was not enmity and hatred to God in the human mind only, but that judicial hostility and variance which separated God and man as Judge and criminal. The feeble criticism of Socinus, on this passage, in which he has been followed by his adherents to this day, is thus answered by Grotius: "In this passage the dative Θεω , to God, can only be governed by the verb αποκαταλλαξη , that he might reconcile; for the interpretation of Socinus, which makes to God stand by itself, or that to reconcile to God is to reconcile them among themselves, that they might serve God, is distorted and without example. Nor is the argument valid which is drawn from thence, that in this place St. Paul properly treats of the peace made between Jews and Gentiles; for neither does it follow from this argument, that it was beside his purpose to mention the peace made for each with God. For the two opposites which are joined, are so joined among themselves, that they should be primarily and chiefly joined by that bond; for they are not united among themselves, except by and for that bond. Gentiles and Jews, therefore, are made friends among themselves by friendship with God."

Here also a critical remark will be appropriate. The above passages will show how falsely it has been asserted that God is no where in Scripture said to be reconciled to us, and that they only declare that we are reconciled to God; but the fact is, that the very phrase of our being reconciled to God imports the turning away of his wrath from us. Whitby observes, on the words καταλλαττειν and καταλλαγη , "that they naturally import the reconciliation of one that is angry or displeased with us, both in profane and Jewish writers." When the Philistines suspected that David would appease the anger of Saul, by becoming their adversary, they said, "Wherewith should he reconcile himself to his master? Should it not be with the heads of these men?" not, surely, How shall he remove his own anger against his master? but, how shall he remove his master's anger against him? How shall he restore himself to his master's favour? "If thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee," not, that thou hast aught against thy brother, "first be reconciled to thy brother; that is, appease and conciliate him; so that the words, in fact, import, "See that thy brother be reconciled to thee," since that which goes before is, not that he hath done thee an injury, but thou him. Thus, then, for us to be reconciled to God is to avail ourselves of the means by which the anger of God toward us is to be appeased, which the New Testament expressly declares to be meritoriously "the sin-offering" of Him "who knew no sin," and instrumentally, as to each individual personally, "faith in his blood." See PROPITIATION .


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Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Reconciliation'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/wtd/r/reconciliation.html. 1831-2.

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