Fundamentals of the Christian Faith in the Light of the Gospels
by Maulana Sadr-ud-Din
Jesus did not Teach the Doctrine of Atonement: Universal Belief in the Healing and Uplifting Power of Repentance
The unfailing efficacy of this cure is admitted by every nation of the world. Through repentance, sinful people are ennobled and purified; even the thieves give up their life-long habit of stealing, and begin to live a new and honest life; and the liars, forsaking their degrading habit, become trustworthy and truthful. Reformatory schools profess that repentance is efficacious, jails make use of this universal cure with manifest advantage, by the grace whereof some of their wretched inmates give up their old habits, and start a better and improved life. If man’s reclamation had been an impossibility, no reformatory schools would ever have been established, nor would Jesus or his forerunner, John the Baptist, have emphasised the doctrine of Repentance. We read in Matthew:
“Then went out to him [John the Baptist] Jerusalem, and all Judea, and all the region round about Jordan, and were baptised of him in Jordan, confessing their sins. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: and think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father… therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire” (Matthew, 3:5–10).
In fine, all the wise men of the world and all the apostles raised by God have found it very useful for the reclamation of a fallen man that he should repent, that is, believing that the wrong path pursued by him is deadly and destructive, he should turn back to the right way. It is true that he repairs to this course only when the disadvantages of the wrong path become conspicuous before his eyes and he becomes fully conscious of the shame and disgrace that await him. The fire of self-reproach burns down his sins to ashes, and the tears of his regret and remorse wash off the stains produced by his transgression. Repentance was the chief cure of John the Baptist about whom the following description will prove instructive, for is has a special bearing on this subject:
“He shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb. And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God [through repentance] … and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just” [through repentance] (Luke, 1:15–17).
The teaching of John the Baptist bore good fruit so that even the harlots entered the kingdom of God (Matthew, 21:31). To assert in the face of these hard facts that man cannot be delivered of sin is to contradict the Divine truth, and to give the lie to the teaching of the righteous prophets like Jesus and John the Baptist. Jesus has, like John, laid utmost stress upon the doctrine that man can be cleansed of sin through repentance, and become as pure and clean as an innocent child:
“And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, and said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew, 18:2–3).
Jesus has indeed expounded and explained this great principle of Repentance on many occasions. He said, addressing Nicodemus:
“Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?” (John 3:3–4).
It is obviously clear that Nicodemus could not understand the words spoken by Jesus. Jesus meant to say that man should bring about such a complete change by means of repentance that it may seem as if he was born again. All the prophets, as stated by Jesus himself, have agreed unanimously upon this great principle taught by Jesus and John the Baptist:
“Woe unto you! for ye build the sepulchres of the prophets, and your fathers killed them. Truly ye bear witness that ye allow the deeds of your fathers: for they indeed killed them, and ye build their sepulchres. Therefore also said the wisdom of God, I will send them prophets and apostles, and some of them they shall slay and persecute…. Verily I say unto you, lawyers! for ye have taken away the key of knowledge: ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering in ye hindered” (Luke, 11:47–52).