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Could any thing be necessary, except to make them repentant and obedient ? And is it for us to say, that such means, such sufferings and sacrifices, such a life and death as Christ's, were not necessary, or cannot be effectual, to bring men to repentance ? It were a bold assertion. We prefer to say, with an Apostle, “Christ gave himself for us, to redeem us from all iniquity, and to purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.” It may look strange to some, to see
good works intimately connected with the sacrifice of Christ, as its very object. But the singularity, if it be such, and the blame, must rest with the Apostle, not with us, though we are very willing to share it. Understanding by“ good works,” fidelity, obedience, the whole work and duty of the Christian, we have no fear that they will ever be too common, or be made too important. It is easier to despise, than to maintain good works. But you have not yet met the case, many will tell us.
You have not come to the foundation on which our view, and the only true view of the atonement, stands. It is not a doctrine of reason, but of revelation. It is taught in Scripture again and again ; and, whether it seem necessary or not, reasonable or otherwise, we will receive it. This is no place to go into the Scripture argument. We know the force of Scripture language on this subject. It is strong. It is peculiar. The death of Christ is spoken of as no other event is. A very solemn importance is ascribed to it. We have no wish to deny that importance ; nor should we dare to say, if disposed, that there is no connexion between this event and human salvation, except that of moral influence. Still we see nothing that requires a belief in any other connexion or influence. We find a meaning, and as strong a meaning, for all the language of Scripture, on our own scheme, as any. The strongest language ever used is of the kind in which Christ is said to " wash us from our sins in his own blood.” Now it is, of course, impossible to understand such language literally. And it is as fair a construction, to suppose it means the moral efficacy of Christ's death in purifying the soul, as to draw from it a literal sacrifice. Peter speaks thus of Christ: “Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we being dead to sin, should live to righteousness; by whose stripes ye were healed.” Here are two of the strongest expressions ever applied to the efficacy of Christ's sufferings, — “bare our sins in his own body on the tree,” and “by whose stripes ye were healed”; yet they are here said to have a purely moral design, -- to cause men to die to sin and live to righteousness. The same may be shown of all expressions and figures connected with this subject. There is no fairness, there is no regard to the laws of interpretation, or of charity, in fixing upon them invariably one technical sense, and forgetting or condemning that which is quite as obvious and more consistent. For we ask if any man living believes that the blood of Christ does of itself cleanse from sin, by its own inherent virtue? Has the death of Christ a necessary efficacy, a universal and irresistible efficacy? Will it save any man, until it has turned him from sin ? Will it save him in any other way, except by turning him from sin ? And how can it do this, except by its moral action, like all truth and motive, all sanctions and means, on the conscience and the character ? It is remarkable, that all views of the atonement, and all appeals upon it, lead ultimately, if not directly, to this, its moral efficacy. And they all sometimes imply that this moral efficacy is enough. Thus Dr. Wayland, in close connexion with the singular language already borrowed from his discourse on the “Moral Efficacy of the Atonement,” speaks of Christ's death in these terms: "The very fact which it reveals, when suitably contemplated, infuses into the soul a moral vigor, by which it rises superior to the thraldom of its lusts, and stands forth in all the loveliness and all the dignity of a new creature in Christ Jesus.” Now suppose this effect to be produced in some other way, without an expiatory offering. Will the writer of that passage say it would not be as availing to salvation, or that God could not as freely accept it? Is it the method that God most regards, or the effect which is produced ? It will not do to say, that no other means can produce the same effect. Whether that be true or not, it does not reach the difficulty, which lies in the assertion, that God could not pardon in any other way, on any other condition. According to this system, he does not pardon because of the sinner's repentance and submission, but because of Christ's death. And yet, we again ask, did that death ever procure pardon for any one, except by working in him repentance and submission ? Is not the whole efficaсу
conditional ? Let Professor Stuart answer: Atoning blood, extensive and gratuitous as the favors are which it proffers, never proffers one unconditionally. The sinner must be humbled and penitent, who is sprinkled with it.” Might he not have added, to be sprinkled with it, is to be humbled and
penitent through its moral power? It is the very purpose, operation, and definition of the sprinkling. And both these writers just quoted prove it, when they insist so much on the marvellous effects that have followed the preaching of Christ crucified; especially in the case of the Moravian missionaries, who made no impression on the Greenlanders by preaching the common truths of religion, until they held up a suffering, bleeding, dying Saviour,
- then the effect was immediate and astonishing. Omitting all other remarks on such facts, we have only to say, that we see in them nothing which favors any other views of this subject so much as our own. They prove that the death of Christ is calculated to have, and does have, a prodigious effect on the hearts and consciences of men.
We devoutly believe it, and consider it one great purpose, if not the chief efficacy, of that event.
If we have not exhausted all patience, we would consider one other view. It is one that appears to pervade all Calvinistic reasoning on sin and forgiveness, justice and mercy. It may be briefly presented in this form. God is just and true, as well as holy. He has said, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.” Now, if that soul escape death, if by its own repentance it can avert the threatened punishment, where is the veracity of God, where the dignity or safety of his government? This is the argument.
We could not believe sensible men would advance it, had we not so often seen it in their books, and recently heard it from their lips. Its fallacy is twofold. Of God's veracity, it is to be remembered, that, while He has said, “The soul that sinneth shall die,” He has also said, 6 The soul that turneth from its sin shall live.” His veracity is pledged for the one assurance as solemnly as for the other. Besides, every one knows, that all the divine promises and threatenings of moral good or evil are conditional. Look at Hezekiah. Look at Nineveh. Look at the many instances in the history of the ancient people, in which God is said to have repented of the evil that he had threatened, and withheld it, on account of the penitence and prayers of individuals or communities. But what are we attempting to establish? that God will not reject and destroy those who return from their wanderings to serve him. The very attempt seeins to us almost profane, and we leave it. But will those who differ from us explain how the difficulty is avoided on their own hypothesis. There stands the sentence, “The soul that sinneth, it shall
N. S. VOL. XIII. NO. II.
die." Christ dies, and that soul is saved. But where is God's veracity? You have but adopted another method of avoiding the same fancied difficulty. You have only supposed another condition to have been annexed to the threatening; with this difference, that your condition was not named, while ours was distinctly announced at every proclamation of the law. “Repent; and turn yourselves from all your transgressions, so iniquity shall not be your ruin." "Turn yourselves, and live ye.
• But the dignity of God's government and the safety of his kingdom, where are they? It is not safe to forgive sin on repentance. No government can abide such a process. No law can stand. It is not safe. That is, if sinners are forgiven on repentance, all men will repent! Of all superficial reasoning, we cannot recall any that surpasses this. Take it in Dr. Beecher's strong terms.
“ It is not a subject of momentary doubt, that pardon upon the simple condition of repentance would break the power of every human government on earth.” Granted. But would it break the power of the divine government? Pardon upon the simple condition of faith, would break all human governments. Forgiveness purchased by the sufferings of a substitute assuredly would. But let the quotation proceed. “And does God govern the universe, upon principles which would fill the earth with anarchy, and turn it into a hell?”* If we believed that God governed the world on the principles of vindictive justice and vicarious suffering, the punishment of the innocent to save the guilty, and the punishment of the guilty, though penitent, to save the law,we should fear to answer that bold question. And if a question can be framed, that will go to the conviction of a Calvinist and the destruction of Calvinism, it would seem to be such an one as this. On the other hand, we do not see what kind of anarchy would follow the forgiveness of any who had forsaken their sins. Let earth be filled by those who have been induced by the Gospel to turn from Satan to God, and it would present a scene unlike any that we have supposed to be intended by a hell."
One of two radical errors infects all such reasoning. Either it is supposed, that repentance means only sorrow for sin without a change of character, or it is forgotten that there is an infinite difference between human and divine systems, perfect and imperfect knowledge or power. The first error has been
* Beecher's Sermon on the “Gospel according to Paul.”
noticed, and is too palpable to detain us. The second is com
even with good writers and otherwise acute reasoners. Mr. Abbott covers many pages with the case of Dr. Dodd, to show, that, notwithstanding his previous character, his deep contrition, the universal sympathy, and countless petitions for mercy, that unhappy man could not be pardoned because it was not safe; and the inference seems to be, that it is never safe for God to pardon an unpunished offence, however deeply repented of. Here things finite and infinite are confounded. Human and divine laws have entirely different objects; the first, to protect the community, the last, to impress and purify the heart. And it is singular, that Mr. Abbott, who well defines the difference in another place, did not see its application here. In truth, this writer has overturned his own reasoning, by the simple remark and the all-important distinction, — “Dodd was not punished for guilt, he was punished for crime.” It is so with human governments always. They deal with crime; God deals with guilt. They look to the act; God to the motive. They arraign the hand ; God the heart. A man may meditate murder; can the law reach him, can men touch him, if he do not commit it? God can reach him, and will judge him. So of forgiveness. Human governments never forgive in the sense in which God forgives. They cannot. They may release from prison and corporal punishment. But God releases from guilt and its sting. For this he has graciously interposed, - to deliver us, not from vengeance, but from guilt. For this Christ lived and died, - to save us from our sins, not from sanguinary justice. “He shall save his people from their
He came to remove the cause, more than the consequences. Salvation itself is deliverance from sin, rather than from its effects, for some of them must follow it. Forgiveness is remission of sins, and sins cannot be remitted unless they are forsaken.
Let men think of their sins. Let them see in their own guilt the only obstacle to forgiveness and salvation. There is no obstacle, there never was, there never can be, in the character or laws of God. There is no obstacle in the promises or threatenings of the Gospel. It is Sın, and nothing else. Let the promises and threatenings of the Gospel, the truth of God, the life and death of Jesus, rebuke this sin, -- awe, subdue, melt it into submission, penitence, and obedience. With these forgiveness comes. In these there is salvation. Christ died,