October 7, 2009

The Doctrine of the Atonement by James Haldane

James Alexander Haldane (1768-1851) lived in a day not unlike our own when men misunderstood the Bible. Two prominent authors had written works seeking to establish the doctrine of universal atonement. This brought confusion concerning the work of Christ to the church in Haldane's time. Haldane set out to reply to their errors and to set forth a sound understanding of Christ's work of particular redemption. I had benefited from Haldane's insights in a shorter work, so I looked forward to reading one of his major books.

Haldane served as pastor to the same congregation for over 50 years. Throughout his life he wrote about the atonement. Obviously it was a subject near and dear to his heart. While he was not a controversialist by habit, nearly every book and tract he wrote on the atonement was in defense of truth and in response to specific errors put forth by his contemporaries.

The Doctrine of the Atonement was written to specifically reply to the errors of Drs Wardlaw, Jenkyn, and Payne. Haldane wrote The Doctrine of the Atonement well into his seventies yet displays a strong and active mind, both in general discourse and in seeing inconsistencies and weaknesses in the works he is contending with.

Generally speaking the book is helpful. Haldane looks at many aspects of the atonement, including its nature, extent, and effects. He explores the free offer of the gospel to all. He examines God's love for mankind. Several controversial questions are toppled by the weight of Scripture.

And yet... it's a struggle to read. Haldane writes with a very sharp razor. He doesn't provide any background on his opponent's arguments. He simply refers the reader to the page number in their works and launches into his reply. For the original audience this was likely not an issue since they had ready access to the opposing works. Not so in this day. Over the years I've wondered why this book of Haldane's hasn't been widely available. Now that I've read it, I understand why. There are other works on the atonement that are much more accessible.

I'm glad I read it, but can only offer a muted recommendation.


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