Joseph Hillary King (1869-1946)

"A Lofty View of the Atonement"

by Douglas Jacobsen

Joseph Hillary King was one of the most gracious and judicious of all early Pentecostal leaders. While he was convinced, like most theologians, that his views represented the best and clearest expression of Christian faith, he always showed respect for those with whom he disagreed. He was sometimes discouraged by the fact Pentecostal believers seemed uninterested in careful theological thinking, preferring emotional experience to doctrinal clarity. But King felt called by God to a ministry of explaining Pentecostal beliefs, and he remained faithful to that task even when his work seemed underappreciated.

As a child, King grew up in a part of South Carolina that was a spiritual wasteland. A traveling evangelist exposed him to the gospel, and he was converted at age 16. While attending worship at a nearby Methodist church several months later, he experienced a marvelous encounter with God that filled his heart with “light, love, and glory.” He was convinced that he had been fully sanctified by God’s Spirit; but, when he told his mother, she replied: “Oh, you know you are not sanctified.” Whatever his mother may have thought, King was convinced God had done something special in his heart, and he treasured the experience for the rest of his life.

Experience was important for King. He once said, “My experience is my creed.” But at heart, he was a logical thinker in matters of faith. In fact, reason led him to Pentecostal faith. G.B. Cashwell, who had just returned from the Azusa Street Mission revival, was preaching in the area. King listened intently and critically to Cashwell’s message about tongues as the sign of the baptism in the Holy Spirit. King’s initial reaction was to criticize Cashwell’s views as mistaken, but he also felt compelled to think the issue through logically. After 2 days of intensive Bible study, thinking, and prayer, King reversed his initial judgment and became convinced that Cashwell was right. The next day he went back to Cashwell’s services, freely admitted that his earlier thinking had been mistaken, and received the baptism in the Holy Spirit with the accompanying evidence of speaking in tongues.

King was a church leader long before becoming a Pentecostal. He had been ordained in the Methodist Church in 1891, and for the first 7 years of his ministry he was a “circuit walker” (since his parishes were too poor to afford a horse) for a number of adjacent congregations in the region where Georgia, Tennessee, and North Carolina meet. By the late 1890s, however, King was beginning to feel restrained by the formality of the Methodist Church. In 1898, he switched his allegiance to the more lively Fire-Baptized Holiness Church (FBHC), and within 2 years he became the leader of that small denomination. Following his own Pentecostal experience, King led the FBHC into the Pentecostal fold, and he later helped the FBHC merge into the larger Pentecostal Holiness Church (PHC). King, who had obvious administrative talents, was soon pushed toward the leadership of the PHC, serving as general overseer from 1917 until 1941.

The selection that follows is taken from King’s first book, From Passover to Pentecost (1914). This book was written in part to refute what King saw as the erroneous thinking of William Durham and his new finished-work theology. King was a Pentecostal holiness believer, and he affirmed the doctrine of second-work sanctification. The specific passage reproduced here, however, does not focus on Durham, but on King’s own understanding of sin and the Atonement. King had a deep and rich understanding of the Atonement that can enrich anyone’s understanding of the work of Christ. This passage also reflects King’s gracious and loving view of God. Among other things, he suggests that the wideness of God’s love may make it possible for people who have never heard about the historical Christ to somehow encounter the essential Christ in a way that can result in their redemption. He was not sure this was possible, but he clearly hoped it might be. In any instance, he believed that God’s grace was larger and more embracing than anyone could ever fully understand.

In every unsaved heart sin exists in a twofold manner. There are sins and sin. The former refers to acts, the latter to condition. Sins are actual; sin original. Sin is inherited; sins are committed. The former descends to us by transmission from Adam’s fall; the latter are acts of disobedience against God’s law. Sin separated us from God; sins bring His condemnation upon us. Sin is a principle; sins are practical. Both are intimately related. Sin is the root; sins are the fruit. Sin is the fountain; sins the stream flowing from it. Sin is the lawless seed; sins are the lawless deeds. Sin is the parent; sins are the offspring. Sin is Adamic; sins are individual and personal. Sin is called the Old Man; sins are designated as transgressions.

In harmony with the foregoing we affirm that all who are born after the Fall are born in sin, or with the principle of sin in them. We sinned in Adam in the Garden. We were in him potentially when he disobeyed. Every soul was in the first man germinally when he was made. God breathed a part of himself into the body of clay, creating the man, and in that divine inbreathing the human race was germinally given birth. We being potentially in Adam the head of the race, we participated in his sin of disobedience. “Wherefore as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (Romans 5:12). “For that all have sinned” in the original is more emphatic: “In whom all have sinned,” that is, in Adam the first. We sinned in him and we fell with him into death and ruin. God viewed the race in Adam when he sinned and looked upon that act as the act of the whole human family. Hence each one received the effect, and experienced the result of his and their disobedience.

The condemnation of Adam’s sin has not been imparted to everyone born into the world, but only the effects of his transgression have been transmitted to us. The effect of his sin upon himself was the sense of guilt, and planting of the principle of sin in his nature, but the effect of his sin only has descended to everyone born of him, planting in them the same principle. Why not the guilt of his act be transmitted to all his vast offspring? Because of the atonement of Christ placed beneath man’s feet the moment he sinned, securing him from instant death, and damnation in hell. The Atonement, virtually offered from the foundation of the world, and including all in its provisions, was unconditionally applied to Adam at the moment of his sin, not in the removal of its guilt or effects, but in keeping him out of eternal punishment which he had merited, and granting him the privilege of living on earth and propagating his seed. The Atonement at one stroke removed the guilt and condemnation of Adam’s sin from the whole human race, so no one is under obligation to go to hell for that sin. As Adam was exempted from instant eternal punishment for his first sin through the unconditional application of the Atonement, so all his posterity was exempted from the like consequences by the same gracious means. No man has to go to hell because of Adam’s transgression. Adam was given a second probation and permitted by the Atonement to live and find the way back to God. All his posterity have the same opportunity through the same probation granted us (not in the next world) of escaping from sin’s consequences through Christ, and obtaining the favor and peace of God. …

Romans is the Atonement epistle. The fifth chapter is the greatest discussion of the Atonement in the Bible. It requires study to understand, and understanding to appreciate it. What may we learn from this most profound discussion?

1. The Atonement is parallel to the Fall. The Fall is universal. Sin touches every living being. Not one has escaped. Wherever man is found, sin is found. Wherever sin is found, there is some vague idea that there is some power that can remove it, or that there is some way to escape from its consequences. The Atonement covers all the ground of sin. Millions know nothing of it, historically. Yet every one is mysteriously touched by the Atonement in that aspect of it which is unconditionally applied. There may be those who have the essential Christ that know nothing of the historic Christ. They may have pressed, in heart, up through the mist of heathenism, and prayed to the God that made the heaven and earth, and in this way touched the Christ and found peace. We do not know this to be true, but we infer the same from certain statements in the Word. Christ “enlightens every man that cometh into the world,” addressing them through Creation, and through the written Word, to those who have it. “For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse.” “For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves, which show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, their thoughts the meanwhile accusing or else excusing one another.”

All this shows, indirectly, the effect of atonement upon heathen hearts, preventing the absolute erasure of every trace of the divine image from their being, and opening a way whereby truth may find its way into their conscience and reason.

We all sinned in Adam and we are made righteous in Christ. This is in a representative sense. We were germinally in Adam when he sinned, and his sin was attributed to every soul in him. All were regarded as participating in his act.

The Atonement in its virtual institution preceded the sin and fall of man. It was in this respect an accomplished fact in the mind of God. And every one in Adam was potentially in the Atonement before the first sin, and because of this, Adam was prevented from dropping into the abyss of eternal night, the moment he sinned. And also those germinally in him, being potentially in Christ, at the same time, were delivered from the guilt of the first sin, and its obligatory punishable demerit. In this sense they are made righteous. All condemnation was removed as a result of their germinal participation in the Edenic transgression. The transmissible effects of the sin was not cut off; therefore its depraving influence flows on through the channel of human generation throughout the whole world. This will continue till the final removal from the world of all the effects of the Adamic sin in the Edenic restoration, through Christ’s coming and reign. The Atonement will erase every trace of the fall from the whole creation.

2. We all died in the first sin. This referred to death spiritual, and partly mental. Death is nothing more than separation from God. We were severed from Him in Eden, and died. The death of the body is only an indirect result of the fall. It was not in an immortal non-perishable state before the entrance of death into the world. The tree of life was that which ministered to the non-perishable preservation of the body in Eden. When Adam sinned, God thrust him out of the Garden, and placed a flaming sword around the tree of life to keep man from eating of it, and living forever, that is, preserving and perpetuating his physical existence upon earth forevermore, in the misery of sin in his soul and spirit. His body began to decay at once when he was driven from the Garden. The decaying would go on till the body would succumb, and this we call death. It is only the end of death’s work. If man had not sinned, his body would have been lifted to the plane of absolute nondecayable existence when we should have been translated to a higher life. This would have been done when his Edenic probation ended.

The Atonement will deliver, or has provided for deliverance from death spiritual, mental and physical, and all decay in the world around us. All born of Adam will be raised from the dead, to die no more, in the sense of death in this sphere of existence. They shall be made alive physically in Christ in the resurrection. The spirits of the wicked will remain in death eternal, because they refused to let it be removed from them in this life. The saved chose to accept the Atonement in its removal of sin here, and they will be placed beyond its possible recurrence in glorification. The bodies of the saints will also be glorified as a result of the provisions of the Atonement for its being lifted to a state of eternal nondecaying existence before the fall — the same being applied to it in and after the resurrection, which will be its glorification.

3. The Atonement exceeds the effects and limits of the Fall. It was instituted before the Fall, in anticipation of its full extent, and so the Atonement must not only cover all the ground of the fall, but it must go beyond, and cover all the original infinite purpose of God in the creation of man and all things from eternity.

King’s “Original Wisdom” for Today

King believed God’s grace and mercy were wide, extending well beyond the body of believers to impact everyone positively in some way.

1. King suggests that the Atonement has to some degree positively affected every human being, even to the point of making it possible that some “heathen” might be able to find peace with God apart from knowledge of the historic Christ. What do you think?

2. How badly do you think the world has been deformed by sin? How much goodness remains in creation despite the Fall because of God’s atoning grace?

3. King asserts that “the Atonement exceeds the effects and limits of the Fall.” Do you agree? What might that mean if it is true?