jQuery Slider

You are here


A Classic Anglican Perspective on the Crucifixion

(This is the first of a two-part series on the theology and teaching of the Rev. Fleming Rutledge, a popular Episcopal priest)


By Roger Salter
July 21, 2018

The Offering of Christ once made is that perfect redemption, propitiation, and satisfaction, for all the sins of the whole world, both original and actual; and there is none other satisfaction for sin, but that alone.From the Articles of Religion, XXX1.

The shedding of the blood of Jesus Christ, its occurrence and effects, constitutes the heart of the Christian gospel. The truth of the poured out precious blood of Christ is the in-erasable and essential content of the divine message of salvation wrought on behalf of mankind. It is the core of the testimony of historic Anglicanism declared to the world. Everything believed, proclaimed, and performed in the name of authentic Anglicanism coalesces to propound the saving efficacy of the death of Christ on behalf of sinful human beings guilty before and estranged from God. The reality of the shed blood is the linchpin of the doctrine of grace that excludes any notion of human contribution or qualification in the rescue of our soul and acceptance with God.

Absolutely every vital component in the salvific plan of the Lord is founded upon the "rosy red blood" of the Redeemer, the purchase price of exemption from perdition, the forthcoming plight of the impenitent. The blood shedding in all its dimensions of meaning beyond the specific deliverance of mankind is the only hope for the fortunate fate of the universe. The cross puts us right with God through faith in its dying victim; it is the correction of an alienated creation and a blighted cosmos.

To our rebel race caught up in the mesh of evil designs and deeds, at enmity with God, and hostile to his very nature and just dominion, the shed blood is the only means of reinstatement to the favor and fellowship of our offended Maker and righteous Ruler. Reconciliation is entirely out of our hands. The shed blood signifies the momentous and merciful intervention of the mighty and majestic Deity upon our undeserving behalf.

Atonement is the theme of Holy Scripture that is to govern our concept both of God and ourselves - our willing enslavement to wrong and his willing ability to reclaim us to his companionship and even promote us to membership of his family as adopted sons and daughters.


Our Reformers were unanimous in according priority to the spilled blood in all their thought and speech to do with the saving assignment of the Lord Jesus Christ:

Bishop John Hooper of Gloucester and of Worcester spoke fervently of the compassion "of him who shed his blood for you".

William Tyndale posed and answered the question, "Who is righteous but he that trusted in Christ's blood, be he never so weak? Christ is our righteousness, and in him ought we to teach all men to trust, and [we ought] to expound unto all men the testament that God hath made to us sinners in Christ' blood." Tyndale continued, "All the deeds in the world, save the blood of Christ, can purchase no forgiveness of sins." And the great translator concludes, "A Christian man hath naught to rejoice in, as concerning his deeds. His rejoicing is that Christ died for him, and that he is washed in Christ's blood."

Thomas Cranmer averred, "This proposition - that we be justified by faith only, freely, and without works - is spoken in order to take away clearly all merit of our works, as being insufficient to deserve our justification at God's hands; and thereby most plainly to express the weakness of man and the goodness of God, the great infirmity of ourselves and the might and power of God, the imperfections of our own works and the most abundant grace of our Savior Jesus Christ; and thereby wholly to ascribe the merit and deserving of our justification unto Christ only and his most precious blood-shedding."

The martyred John Bradford warned his hearers in an appeal for their salvation: "Dearly beloved, therefore abhor this abomination, even to think that there is any other satisfaction to God-ward for sin than Christ's blood only . . . because there was never sin forgiven of God, from the beginning unto the end of the world, but only through Christ's death."

John Jewel in his teaching on baptism remarked, "It is the sacrament of the remission of sins and of that washing which we have in the blood of Christ."

Nicholas Ridley, Bishop of London observed poetically, "that the Lord's death and passion is as effectual, the virtue of that blood once shed as fresh at this day for the washing away of sins, as it was even the same day that it flowed out of the blessed side of our Savior."

Archbishop Sandys stated, "But our sins are remitted only in the blood of Christ Jesus. Christ therefore is our only peacemaker with God."

These few citations are typical of the convictions of our founding Anglicans. They had no hesitations in endorsing and enunciating a thoroughly Scriptural presentation of the Gospel, which, with open Bible, was as clear as day before them : The blood of Christ purifieth from all sin (1 John 1:17). Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness (Hebrews 9:22).

The healing crimson stream issuing from Calvary ensures ineluctably the cognizance of all the components of the ordo salutis so firmly grasped by the faith of the Reformation: For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified (Romans 8: 28-30).

The blood is the fertilizer of our saving faith in all its main features to be expounded to the church and the world. "God chooses us first, and loveth us first, and openeth our eyes to see his exceeding abundant love to us in Christ; and then we love again [in return], and accept his will above all things, and serve him in that office whereunto he hath chosen us . . . God worketh with his word; and, when his word is preached, faith rooteth herself in the hearts of the elect; and as faith entereth, and the word of God is believed, the power of God looseth the heart from the captivity and bondage under sin, and knitteth and coupleth him to God and to the will of God (WilliamTyndale).


The poet and preacher John Donne has been described as the English Augustine. The former Dean of St. Paul's heartily approved of the Reformation: "God shin'd upon this Island early. Early in the plantation of the Gospel, (for we had not our seed-Corn from Rome, however we may have had some waterings from thence) and early in the Reformation of the Church; for we had not the model of any other Foreign Church for our pattern . . . . but received such a Reformation at home, by the hands whom God enlightened." Donne was entirely a devotee of Holy Scripture as the word of God designed to bring us to confidence in Christ: "All is ignorance, except it conduce us to the knowledge of of the Scriptures, and all the Scriptures lead us to Christ".

No one has described the crucifixion as vividly and as viscerally as John Donne in his sermon Death's Duell preached 25th February 1631: "There hangs that sacred body upon the Crosse, rebaptized in his own tears and sweat, and embalmed in his owne blood alive." Nor has anyone urged such close identification with our suffering Substitute. "There do we leave you in that blessed dependancy, to hang upon him that hangs upon the Crosse, there bath in his tears, there suck at his wounds, and lie downe in peace in his grave, till he vouchsafe you a resurrection and an ascension into that Kingdome, which he hath purchas'd for you, with the inestimable price of his incorruptible blood." In this same sermon Donne declares that "Christ took sin upon him" and follows with the exhortation, "And behold how that Lord that was God, yet could dye, and would dye, must dye, for your salvation."

Dean Donne was profoundly evangelical soteriologically. Indeed William H.Halewood in his study entitled The Poetry of Grace demonstrates that Donne's understanding of grace was identical to that of the Puritans: "Grace can deal definitively with the most resistant will, as in the case of the thief crucified with Christ, whose conversion illustrates 'the infallibility, and the dispatch of the grace of God upon them, whom his gracious purpose hath ordained to salvation: how powerfully he works; how instantly they obey'. The theme belongs to Donne as much as any occupant of a popular pulpit, and presumably the ears of his audience itched for it as much as any assembly of Puritans".

In Donne's estimation Christ is the bearer of our punishment and afflictions. "Kings pardon, but he bore our punishment." Christ, says Donne, took upon himself, "the infirmities, and the sins, and the punishment of every singlular man . . . we are delivered, for we paid our debt in Christ Jesus." Thinking of his own sin Donne muses,"As for sin it self, I would not, I do not extenuate my sin, but let me have fallen, not seven times a day, but seventy seven times a minute, yet what are my sins, to all those sins that were upon Christ? . . . All these sins , past, present, and future, were at once upon Christ, and in that depth of sin, mine are but a drop to his Ocean; In that treasure of sin, mine are but single money to his Talent". He adds, "all particular sins of every kind were laid upon him, upon Christ Jesus." [The topic of the extent of the atonement in Anglican thought is not pursued in this article. It suffices for the present purpose to show that Donne regarded the Lord Jesus as sin-bearer].

The theme of the shed blood is ever in the mind of Donne with graphic impact. "So when we put out into the boundless sea of the blood of Christ Jesus, by which only we have reconciliation to God, there remains no record against us; for God hath cancelled that record which he kept, and that which satan kept God hath nailed to the Crosse of his Son." Donne's comprehension of the cross conforms to the canon of Reformed preaching. "That day when Christ dyed, I and you, and all that shall be saved, suffered, dyed, and were crucified, and in Christ Jesus satisfied God the Father, for those infinite sins which we had committed." Rightly, the poet of St. Paul's pulpit observed, "The whole life of Christ was a continual Passion . . . . HIs birth and his death were but one continual act" (see the litany).

Archbishop James Ussher is one of the principal figures of Anglican history about whom much more should be known generally. He was a colossus of his time. "The esteem in which James Usher, Archbishop of Armagh, was held in the seventeenth century is beyond question" (Richard Snoddy, The Soteriology of James Ussher, OUP, 2014, Page one). Ussher's theological influence was massive and cannot be adequately outlined here, but the respect accorded to him throughout the Protestant world, and among Catholic controversialists, was huge and his Christian character inspired much affection. Of this great Anglican forefather there ought to be vast increase of appreciation. Beside him many present bishops are pygmies in stature and bereft of any semblance of sound doctrine. Suffice to say that James Ussher was an ardent apostle of the shed blood. 'He counsels Christians seeking assurance to return to the gracious promise of justification for all who believe in the finished work of Christ: "And although thou findest but half, or little witnesse of this Water, and none of the Spirit, yett be sure thou goe to the Bloode, thy Justification, and there cheere up thy self. There thou shalt find sure Testimonie, and sound comfort. Bee not then carelesse, refuse not grace freely offered in Christ, laie hold thereof, and rest upon it cheefly. Though nothing els maie cheere thee, yet BLOODE att all times is a sure Testimonie, which will never faile thee. Take all other things from mee, onelie lett me bee bathed in this blood"' (Snoddy p206).

John Newton Is a major voice in the Anglican Evangelical tradition. For many reasons his influence spans the world. As interpreter of Holy Scripture and dispenser of spiritual counsel he is excelled by none. He exemplifies Christian wisdom, candor, and maturity to a very high degree. His understanding and communication of the Gospel is almost peerless in his time and would be reinvigorating for the Church in ours. The blood shedding is the anchor and animator of his faith: "Man lay under a double incapacity for happiness; he could neither keep the law of God in future, nor satisfy for his past breach and contempt of it. To obviate the former, Jesus Christ performed perfect unpinning obedience in our stead. To remove the latter, he became 'the propitiation of our sins; ' yielded up his life as a prey into the hands of murderers, and poured forth his precious blood, in drops of sweat in the garden, in streams from his side upon the cross. For this he endured the the fiercest temptations of the devil, the scorn, rage, and malice of men, and drank the bitter cup of the wrath of God, when it pleased the Father to bruise him, and make his soul an offering for sin."

Consistent with Old Testament teaching on atonement John Newton declares " This title, therefore, 'The Lamb of God,' refers to to his (the Lord Jesus) voluntary substitution for sinners, that by his sufferings and death that those who deserved to die might obtain eternal life through him, and for his sake. Mankind were universally chargeable with transgression of the law of God, and were in a state of alienation from him. A penalty in case of disobedience was annexed to the law they had broken; to which they as offenders, were therefore obnoxious. . . . But herein God is Glorious. His wisdom propounded, and his love afforded, the adequate, the only possible expedient. He revealed to our first parents his purpose, which in the fulness of time he accomplished, of sending 'forth his Son, made of a woman, under the law, to redeem sinners from the curse of the law' by sustaining it for them".

Newton makes a telling point to the effect that God, training his anger upon his Son, and consuming it in himself - (a Trinitarian observation which solves the problem propitiation happens to pose for many) -, and "considering the dignity of his person and the perfection of his obedience, his suffering and death for sins not his own, displayed the heinousness of sin and the severe displeasure of God against it, in a much stronger light than the execution of the sentence upon the offenders could possibly do." This statement implies that the redeeming love, therefore, is equally much stronger than we could possibly estimate! God actually bruising his Beloved for our eternal benefit. No love surpasses this.

Bishop John Charles Ryle was one of the greatest pillars of Reformational Anglicanism in the 19th century, and an indefatigable champion of Scripture and a right view of the atonement. He reveled in the benefits of the blood shedding (The Cross of Christ, Old Paths, Banner of Truth). "People seem to forget that all Christ's sufferings on the cross were necessary for man's salvation. He had to bear our sins, if ever they were to be borne at all. With his stripes alone could we be healed. This was the payment of our debt that God would accept: this was the great sacrifice on which our eternal life depended. If Christ had not gone to the cross and suffered in our stead, the just for the unjust, there would not have been a spark of hope for us. There would have been a mighty gulf between ourselves and God, which no man ever could have passed."


Modern times do not lack highly competent commentators on the essential meaning of the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ. Their publications are numerous, extensive and in evident alignment with Sacred Scripture. Anglicans have not been slack in this endeavor and have made notable and valuable contributions to the explanation of the blood shedding so central and precious to our heritage. Anglicans fully concur with the Puritan minister Stephen Charnock when he says, "Christ crucified is the sum of the Gospel, and contains all the riches of it". These riches are laid before us in the quotations that follow, added to which is the invitation to peruse the subject of the sacrificial death of the Savior with further earnestness in the volumes mentioned.

"Jesus underwent the spiritual penalty for our wrong doing. Everything we do wrong has consequences that cannot be avoided, but Jesus willingly identified with us and bore our penalty . . . Throughout the bitter agony Jesus was gladly obedient, he was the divine Lord, as man bearing man's sin in himself. . . Jesus, the complete victor, rose again from death. This was to be expected, for death is the penalty fro sin, and victory over sin means victory over death." David Broughton Knox, eminent Australian Christian thinker and teacher, continues," Christ, in fulfilling the will of God 'bore our sins'. He became a 'curse for us'. He was 'made sin for us'. 'The Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all'. 'Sin-bearing and substitution are at the very centre of this victory of the Atonement. It was the willingness to be substitute for sinners here which was the index of Christ's obedience. His obedience cannot be properly conceived of apart from a clear recognition of what it was that God asked of him, i.e. sin bearing for others. Yet this is the very thing that many modern theologians of the atonement fail to do." Knox defines the obedience of Christ to his Father's will as the 'enduring of the just penalty of sin at the hand of God for the propitiation of the wrath of God against sinners'. There is no clash of wills here between the Father and the Son. Mercy ensuring diverted or averted wrath is the agreed intent of Father and Son." Selected Works, Volume One, St. Matthias Press Ltd.

The late Leon Morris produced at least three books specifically addressing the wonder and effectiveness of the atonement, namely, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross, The Cross in the New Testament, and Glory in the Cross. Each of these works, a trio covering the most glorious theme ever, ranging from meticulous scholarship to highly accessible treatment, is a most noble tribute to the great soul saving, cosmos corrective action of Almighty God through his Son's redemptive death at Calvary - the renovation of the universe accomplished from a small spot on earth. It is staggering to think that we occupy the planet where God designed that the Incarnation and Reconciliation of all things to God should occur (Christ, who by his incarnation gathered into one all things earthly and heavenly, fill you with his joy and peace - Christmastide blessing). The crucifixion - blood shedding - is the most awesome and holy subject human minds will ever consider, the theme of praise throughout endless eternity: Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise (Revelation 6:12).

Morris covers the spectrum of the Savior's achievement fully and satisfactorily (for a human attempt). The crucifixion is surveyed in its many aspects - triumphal (victory over evil, death and satan), eschatological (the divine sovereignty and kingdom of God) and soteriological (expiation and penal substitution as regards the guilty). Morris speaks of a complex atonement, not shying away from the Anselmic notion, supported by the Hodges (father and son, Charles and A.A.) of the legal liability of the sinner whose reconciliation to God requires a vicarious Justifier and Remitter of our moral and spiritual debts. "This way of looking at the cross preserves the important truth that God not only saves sinners but saves them in a way that accords with right. Some ways of looking at salvation seem almost to proceed along the lines that 'might is right'; God is stronger than satan (or evil), so he puts forth his power and delivers us. There is, of course, an aspect of salvation in which something like this can be said; we have already noticed that Christ won the victory. But that is not the whole story. Salvation is too big to be comprehended wholly by one of our categories. We need them all, and specifically we need to know that our penalty is paid and our acquittal brought about in a way that is right".

"The God who loves so deeply will not leave sinners to perish, and Paul's whole theology and religious experience are based squarely on what God has done in Christ for our salvation. He began it, for the Incarnation is due to God; he sent his Son (Rom 8:3; Gal 4:4). We usually think of Christ dying for us, and it is right that we should. But we should not overlook the fact that God 'did not spare his own Son but delivered him up for us all' (Rom 8.32). The Father was active in the work of the atonement and, of course, the Resurrection was characteristically ascribed to God (e.g., Rom 4:24; 8:11;10:9.) It is important for us to see that for Paul the Incarnation, Jesus' atoning death, and the resurrection are all to be understood as the outworking of God's love bringing about our salvation. God is not passive, doing no more than acquiescing in a salvation won by Christ. He is active. He effects it all."

Morris considers the gift of righteousness that comes to us through Christ's substitutionary death: "That it is gift points to a forensic activity. God gives us the status of being 'right'. He credits righteousness apart from works (Rom 4:6)". Our trustworthy mentor adds, "There are other ways of considering salvation than as a legal standing, and Paul uses a number of them. For example, God sets forth Christ as a 'propitiation' (Rom 3:25). Some people do not use the King James Version these days, partly because such terms as propitiation are not widely understood, but more because modern scholars do not see see the concept of 'the wrath of God" as an important one. But we should be clear that Paul sees God as being angry with sinners . . . The word propitiation signifies 'the turning away of anger,' [anger is a topic to be considered in Part Two] usually by an offering. If it does not have this meaning in Romans 3:25, what has become of the wrath that Paul has made so clear in the earlier discussion? How are inners saved from it? I am not arguing that we should stake everything on the use of one word rather than another; we my prefer some other word than propitiation. It is the concept that matters, and in Romans 3 the argument demands some expression that includes the idea of removing from sinners the wrath that Paul has shown so convincingly is all that they can expect.

Most translations these days avoid 'propitiation', but this does seem to be an important category for Paul. The linguistics show that the meaning is 'propitiation' rather than 'expiation'

And Paul takes 'the wrath of God seriously, for he sees it as exercised toward 'all impiety and unrighteousness of men (Rom 1:18). It is, of course, true that propitiation is a difficult word, and I agree that it would be helpful to replace it. It is the idea, not the word, that is important. But the trouble is that the substitutes so far suggested do not preserve the idea. "Expiation" does not, for all its popularity in some circles, because it is an impersonal word. One expiates a crime or a sin, not a person, but sinners are confronted with the wrath of a divine Person. And one of the things Paul says is that what Christ's atonement does is to remove that wrath."

Morris avers that in Christ's atoning death love is at work. "Sometimes Christians have all unwittingly given a picture of a stern and demanding God, who demands uprightness of life and sits in judgment on all who do not produce it. He is the judge of all and in his hands sinners face a dismal prospect. Into this picture comes a loving Son, who died for us and thus delivered us from his inflexible Father. Wherever people get this caricature, it was not from Paul. The apostle does not separate the Father and the Son. They are one, one in love, one in the costly loving action that brings salvation to sinners, one in the constant love lavished on the saved to supply their every need (Phil.4:19), one in the love that keeps believers in the right way."

Morris makes it clear that, "We must always be on our guard against accepting only those New Testament ideas which are congenial to us." Morris reveled in the fact of penal substitution which displays the immensity and intensity of God's saving love in Christ. "He did not only suffer. He suffered vicariously, substitutionarily. He bore the penalty for the sins of others." Morris is emphatic on the matter of penal substitution: "This is a persistent strand of New Testament teaching and it must not be overlooked. When Christ came to do his great work for sinners, it involved being where sinners were. To use a phrase from Ezekiel, he, 'sat where they sat', and this, not only in the sense that he entered into a perfect sympathy with them as he shared their earthly lot, but also in that he took their place as he died. This view is out of favor just now, but nothing less seems adequate to the New Testament evidence."

Out of favor or not, John Stott, in his masterly treatise, The Cross of Christ, supports and confirms the conclusions of Morris in matchless manner and mighty force of accurate exposition. Of Leon Morris, John Stott writes, "He has made himself master of the extensive literature of the ages on this theme (the atonement), and his The Cross in the New Testament (1965) remains probably the most comprehensive survey available. From it I quote with warm endorsement his statement that 'the cross dominates the New Testament'. Every facet of the crucifixion of Christ is examined by Stott with reverent skill and convincing understanding and where evangelical views are 'out of favor' Stott is forceful and fair in interpreting Holy scripture: "Because we were sinners, we deserved to die under the righteous anger of God. But God sent his only Son, and in sending him came himself to die that death and bear that wrath instead of us. It was an act of sheer, pure, unmerited love."

Doctor Stott refers to what he calls the "four principal New Testament images of salvation, taken from the shrine, the market, the law court and the home." He moves on, "all four images plainly teach that God's saving work was achieved through the blood shedding, that is, the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ. With regard to the blood of Christ the texts are again unequivocal. 'God presented him as a propitiatory sacrifice, through faith in his blood.' 'We have now been justified by his blood.' 'You who once were far away have been brought near (i.e. reconciled) through the blood of Christ.' Since Christ's blood is a symbol of his life laid down in violent death, it is also plain in each of the four images that he died in our place as our substitute. The death of Jesus was the atoning sacrifice because of which God averted his wrath from us, the ransom-price by which we have been redeemed, and the condemnation of the innocent that the guilty might be justified, and the sinless One being made sin for us.

"So substitution is not a 'theory of the atonement'. Nor is it even an additional image to take its place as an option alongside the others. It is rather the essence of each image and the heart of the atonement itself. None of our four images could stand without it. I am not of course saying that it is necessary to understand, let alone articulate, a substitutionary atonement before one can be saved. Yet the responsibility of Christian teachers, preachers and other witnesses is to seek grace to expound it with clarity and conviction. For the better people understand the glory of the divine substitution, the easier it will be for them to trust the Substitute."

John Stott observes that "Dr J.I. Packer has rightly written that this belief 'is a distinguishing mark of the world-wide evangelical fraternity (even though it 'often gets misunderstood and caricatured by its critics'); it takes us to the very heart of the Christian gospel'". The quotation from Dr Packer is taken from his monograph What Did the Cross Achieve?, an invaluable document to acquire if it is still available - possibly IVP. Dr Packer is a staunch and immensely able advocate of penal substitution as his monograph and many other writings will prove. He speaks in his handbook Concise Theology of "the Son who came from the Father's side at the Father's will to become the sinner's substitute on the cross" (article on Incarnation) and states of Jesus (in article on Vocation), "His baptism proclaimed that he had come to take the sinner's place under God's penal judgment. This the sense in which he was baptized 'to fulfill all righteousness'" (Matt. 3:15; cf. Isa. 53:11).

In view of this Scriptural and Reformational orthodoxy propounded for centuries by such eminent Evangelical scholars what is an ordinary parish presbyter (stress on the ordinary) to make of the much lauded study by Fleming Rutledge entitled The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ. There seems to be considerable clash of conviction to be briefly examined in Part Two.

The Rev. Roger Salter is an ordained Church of England minister where he had parishes in the dioceses of Bristol and Portsmouth before coming to Birmingham, Alabama to serve as Rector of St. Matthew's Anglican Church

Get a bi-weekly summary of Anglican news from around the world.
comments powered by Disqus
Letter to the Churches, text and commentary
Prayer Book Alliance
Trinity School for Ministry

Land of a Thousand Hills Coffee

Drink Coffee

Do Good

Sustainable Ministry

Coffee, Community, Social Justice


Go To Top