A Brilliant 11th Century Gospel Presentation

Tuesday is for Preaching

I love this presentation of gospel truth not only for its clarity but also for its pastoral sensitivity. Some in our time want to say that the Reformation doctrine of the atonement is a new thing. Anselm predates the Reformation by 400 years and it doesn’t sound like Anselm had any problem with substitutionary atonement to me.

I used this particular presentation with my father in the last months of his life. It gave me, and I believe him, great comfort. 

Anselm (1033-1109), was a Scholastic Theologian who wrote a magnificent book called  Cur Deus Homo (“Why a God Man?”) on why the Savior of the world had to be both human and divine.

One side note: For Anselm, when he speaks of the cross of Christ, the death of Christ, he has in mind the whole of everything Christ did from Good Friday through the resurrection. Even more broadly, he has in mind the whole of Christ’s sinless life and his ascension to heaven. The gospel is the life of Christ, the death of Christ, the resurrection of Christ and the ascension of Christ for us.

Romans 4:5
“But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly,
his faith is credited as righteousness.” (NASB)

Anselm wrote a tract for the consolation of those who are dying in the form of a Socratic dialogue. His words:

Do you believe the Lord Jesus died for thee?
Answer:  I believe it.
Do you thank him for his passion and death?
Answer: I do thank Him.
Do you believe that you cannot be saved except by His death?
                                                                              Answer: I believe it.”
Anselm then addresses the dying man:
“Come then, while life remains in you; in His death alone place your whole trust; in nothing else place any trust; to his death commit yourself wholly; with this alone cover yourself wholly; and if the Lord thy God will to judge you, say, ‘Lord, between Thy judgment and me I present the death of our Lord Jesus Christ; no otherwise can I contend with Thee.’
And if He shall say that you are a sinner, say to Him:
‘Lord, I interpose the death of our Lord Jesus Christ between my sins and Thee.’
And if He say that you deserve condemnation, say:
‘Lord, I set the death of our Lord Jesus Christ between my evil deserts and Thee, and His merits I offer for those which I ought to have and have not.’
If He say that His wrath toward you is great, say:
‘Lord, I place the death of our Lord Jesus Christ between Thy wrath and me.’
And when you have completed this, say again:
‘Lord, I set the death of our Lord Jesus Christ between Thee and me.’”

[Anselm, Opera (Migne), 1:686-687.]
See also John Piper’s A Godward Life: Book 1

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