Page images
PDF
EPUB

of the atonement or of Christ. Still conscience and repentance would not save them, they could not be saved, if Christ had not died. A Christian minister, thrown among these savages who had heard nothing of the kind before, thus gives them his last message.

"There is a God,' he says to those around him, in his dying hour. 'He will punish the bad. Become good, and you will please him.'

"Ah!' reply the savages, 'we have all been bad already,· very bad.'

[ocr errors]

Think not about the past,' he replies. It will be forgiven: there is a way:-I cannot explain it. Leave your wickedness and do right, and God will save you.' Corner-Stone, pp. 79, 80.

99

[ocr errors]

A sensible, faithful, Christian sermon. We wish all missionaries would copy after it. But we can never agree to the principle on, which it is here said to stand. We can never believe, that the same would not have been true, that the faithful minister could not have preached it, that Almighty God could not have sealed and fulfilled it, but for a particular event, taking place in a particular way, on this little globe, four thousand years after man was placed upon it; an event, too, of which these savages knew nothing, of which they were not required to know any thing, by which, of course, they were not in the least impressed or affected, and which, while it was the only thing that rendered their salvation possible, contributed nothing toward the accomplishment of that salvation in their own souls! This doctrine we regard as unreasonable, unscriptural, unsafe, and enormous. Yet this is the doctrine which may be seen through all the forms and disguises of the popular view of the atonement. We ask the advocates of that view to ponder it. We call them soberly to consider, what they are alleging; that a just and merciful Being cannot forgive sin, though repented of and forsaken, by virtue of any attributes or will of his own, any principles of his government or purposes of his creation, but must do it, if at all, solely through the expiatory sacrifice of an innocent infinite being. We acknowledge cheerfully, that all Trinitarians do not say this, and that some in high places disclaim it. Dr. Magee expressly disclaims it, both for himself and for the whole English Church; and though we doubt his authority to speak thus for all, we rejoice that he finds any reason for the declaration: "That men could not have been forgiven, unless Christ had suffered to purchase their

[ocr errors]

forgiveness, is no part of the doctrine of the atonement, as held by the Church of England.” Yet every man who has looked into the history of doctrines, knows that this has been the opinion of a great portion of Christians from an early day, and that it enters essentially, however unconsciously, into all Calvinistic creeds and sentiments. It is indeed the only material point in dispute, on this subject. The fact of the atonement, the efficacy of Christ's death, are admitted by all. But those of whom we speak go far beyond its efficacy, and insist upon its necessity, a necessity resulting, not from the nature of man, but from the nature of God; and, therefore, on God, not on man, are the sufferings of Christ to take effect. They may have, they do have, an effect on man; but they would not have this effect, or it would not avail, had they not first made satisfaction to God, and reconciled his conflicting attributes, permitting him to be merciful, or, as it seems to us, making him merciful. We feel authorized to place this last emphasis, by language common in the old writers, and not unknown now; for we find it, to our surprise, even in so rational and elevated a writer as Dr. Wayland. Speaking of the change produced in the government of God by the death of Christ, he says: “Salvation is now as free to the human race as condemnation. If any one perish now, he has no one to blame but himself. The throne of God is now a mercy-seat. The time has been, then, when God's throne was not a mercy-seat. The time has been, when salvation was not as free as condemnation, and when the perishing sinner could blame some one beside himself. And whom could he blame? We tremble to think what the answer must be.

This whole view rests upon an assumed fact and false reasoning The assumption is, that justice in God requires every sin to be fully punished, whatever the disposition or conduct of

the sinner afterward. Can this be proved ? Is there aught in i nature or Scripture to sustain it ? Does justice in man require

that every debt be paid, before the debtor can be released ? Justice may require it, but it may also remit it. It may punish, it may, and often does, forgive. And Christ has taught us to ask our Father in heaven, to "forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” There is not only the prayer, but the promise. “Forgive, and ye shall be forgiven. Indeed, had we time to refer particularly to Scripture, we should ask, with still greater boldness, where is the doctrine in question sustain

* Wayland's Discourses, p. 178.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

ed there? Where does the assumption just stated find a single passage to lean upon, or a legitimate inference to give it favor ? If the Bible throughout does not teach the original, essential, perfect placability of God, it is to us an unintelligible book. “ Thou art a God ready to pardon, gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness

- contains an assurance, which the law and the Prophets repeat in every variety of form. An Apostle teaches the same, in words seemingly written to refute the very error before us. “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins” - where it is not merely mercy that forgives, but faithfulness and justice. The teaching, life, and character of our Saviour, are full, are eloquent in exhibiting the free mercy and unalterable placability of God. The parable of the prodigal son is enough, if not another line had been written.

We know there is an answer to all this. It is said to be itself the effect of the atonement, either in anticipation or consequence, so that no force is allowed to our reasoning. But force must be allowed to the word of God. And we challenge any man to find a syllable in the word of God, authorizing such an answer, or such a perversion of the plainest and strongest language. If the Scriptures do not teach that sin always has been, and always will be, forgiven on repentance, independently of the mode in which repentance is produced, it cannot be taught in human phrase. You cannot express that truth, if it is not expressed again and again in the Bible. You cannot refute, you will not deny, the position, that repentance is there made the condition of forgiveness, as clearly and emphatically as words can do it; or rather, we should say, repentance with obedience, for mentally we always connect them. These constitute the first condition of acceptance ever named in Scripture. God said unto Cain, “If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door.” Remember all the promises to the chosen people of full blessing on these same terms. Remember that beautiful passage in the 55th chapter of Isaiah : “Let the wicked forsake his way, &c.” Remember and reperuse the whole of the 18th chapter of Ezekiel, and invent a meaning for such an assurance as this : “When the wicked man turneth away from his wickedness that he hath committed, and doeth that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive.” Turn to the New Testament. What was the preaching of John? Re

[ocr errors]

1

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

pentance. Of Christ ? Repentance. Of Peter and Paul ? «« Repentance towards God, and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ." Are we told that this last clause subverts our whole reasoning? How? Does faith in Christ necessarily mean faith in certain views of his death? That again is an assumption. But grant it. Whatever that faith be, it is to affect the sinner only, and lead him to repentance as the only condition of pardon. Let it be observed, too, that repentance and forgiveness are often connected with each other, and with the sufferings of Christ, as the very purpose of those sufferings. We can give but one passage, but that is from Christ himself after his death, and is one of the few cases in which he speaks directly of his own sufferings : “Thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations."

Repentance and remission of sins! Let them never be separated. Let them be presented and weighed, as the great objects to be accomplished by the life and death of Christ. And let others follow the example of such men as Paley and Tillotson, whose view may be seen in the title of a single sermon. Paley has it, — “ The Efficacy of the Death of Christ consistent with the Necessity of a Good Life; the one being the cause, the other the condition of salvation.” And Tillotson, “Christ the Author, and Obedience the Condition, of Salvation.” If we were to write our creed on this whole subject in a few words, we could hardly find better.

But again we hear objections. First, it is said, as before, that if it be so, it is all by virtue of the atonement alone. We can only reply, as before ; It is an assumption ; prove it. Secondly, it is said we thus confound repentance with obedience. Do not the Scriptures authorize us, not to confound, but to connect the words as inseparable? Is not the meaning of the original word for repentance, reformation, and is not reformation: obedience ? Such is the teaching of Christ and the Apostles. Such is the teaching of experience and fact. Repentance can be proved only by obedience. If it come short of obedience, it is not thorough repentance. This is clear; and yet we apprehend it is not considered, but is one of those verbal differences which keep alive disputes more than real differences. Trinitarians appear to use the word repentance as synonymous with penitence, denoting only sorrow for sin. Taken in that sense alone, it is evident that it is not, and

[ocr errors]

cannot be, the condition of salvation. We use it, as we think the Scriptures and reason require, to denote reformation, obedience; and then it is as evident that it is, and must be, the condition of salvation. But, at this point, a third objection meets us. To make repentance, or obedience, a condition of salvation, is to put salvation on the ground of merit. We answer, You might as well say, to make faith a condition of salvation, is to put it on the ground of merit. Faith is as much a personal property as obedience. It is as much an individual act; for faith, all admit, is dead without works. If a man attain salvation by faith in some truth or doctrine, it is as truly his own work, as if he attain it by obedience; and he is as much in danger of being proud of it, and making it a ground of merit or claim. Faith alone is certainly the easiest of all conditions, and the most dangerous. It is only by making it comprise repentance and obedience, that you make it scriptural and guard it from abuse. And, after all, what is this but another dispute about words ? What do we mean by a condition? We mean that which is essential, that without which the object will not be attained, the promise will not be fulfilled. Now, do not all hold, that obedience is essential ? Yes. Can any man be saved without it? No. It is then a condition, if we know the meaning of the word. It is a condition, if any thing you can name is such, and implies as little human merit, and authorizes as little human claim, as any feeling, exercise, opinion, or act. A fourth objection asks, If repentance and obedience are sufficient, where is the need of a Saviour or of an atonement ? Why did Christ die? Most plainly, to produce repentance and obedience. Christ died, “the just for the unjust, to bring us to God.” The other doctrine requires us to read, ' Christ died to bring God to us.' The Apostle says, “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself.” Is not that a sufficient object ? Is not the work of reconciliation, the work of faith, repentance, and obedience, great and difficult enough, to call for all the interposition and manifestation, all the miracles and wonders, the promises, threatenings, and sanctions, of the gospel dispensation ? Reverse the construction of the above and similar passages, suppose them to mean that God was in Christ reconciling himself to the world, as some systems imply, and we may with reason ask, What is the need of the atonement? Was not God willing always to be reconciled, and able to be reconciled, to his repentant and obedient children?

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »