“Only the fact that Christ stands out in history as surety of the gracious will of God, that in God’s name he punishes sin and calls the sinner to himself, that in holy suffering he endures the lot of sinners in order to convict them of their sin and free them from it, that as the Risen One he brings them the assurance of justification and of eternal life, is able to transform human seeking after salvation into finding. Severed from this fact which forms its very essence, faith is nothing, an empty desire, a question without an answer.”
One of B. B. Warfield’s most insightful essays is “Christless Christianity,” written for The Harvard Review in 1912. It is available in its entirety here: Christless Christianity. It is not an easy essay, but well worth the effort.
Warfield takes aim at those who would divorce Christianity from history thereby eliminating Christ’s cross as the ground of our salvation. He points out that,
There is a moral paradox in the forgiveness of sins which cannot be solved apart from the exhibition of an actual expiation [a payment for sin]. No appeal to general metaphysical or moral truths concerning God can serve here; or to the essential kinship of human nature to God; or, for the matter of that, to any example of an attitude of trust in the divine goodness upon the part of a religious genius, however great, or to promises of forgiveness made by such a one, or even—may we say it with reverence—made by God himself, unsupported by the exhibition of an actual expiation.
No payment for sin, no Christianity. Warfield continues,
The sinful soul, in throes of self-condemnation, is concerned with the law of righteousness ingrained in his very nature as a moral being, and cannot be satisfied with goodness, or love, or mercy, or pardon.