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ON THE ATONEMENT OF CHRIST.
"THE Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all," Isaiah 53:6. It is important to know the design and effects of the sufferings of Jesus Christ. Though the Scriptures appear to be full and explicit on this subject, there is no inconsiderable difference of opinion respecting it. The doctrine of the atonement is of the first importance, whether it be viewed in relation to the moral condition of man, or in relation to the nature and character of the Lord Jesus.
The Creator made mankind moral agents, and he gave them a law for the regulation of their conduct. This law required perfect obedience; and it threatened punishment for every transgression. Whatever may be the difference, in respect to the number of God's commands in different ages of the world, they are of one nature; they require obedience, and they threaten punishment for every offence. If, in one age of the world, the penalty of the law was everlasting punishment, it was the same in every age.
We look over this world, and we find that it is a province of divine government; and that it is a rebellious province. They have violated the law of their divine Sovereign; forfeited the reward of righteousness; and incurred the penal consequences of transgression. If the law have its natural course, the threatened punishment will be inflicted upon every transgressor; and the whole race of man will suffer the vengeance of God for ever. If the divine law be
just and good, its honor would be supported in this way by its own provisions. But we learn from the general dealings of God with this world, and from his revealed word, that mercy is an attribute of his nature; that he is benevolent to sinful man; that he delighteth not in the death of sinners. A question naturally rises here; how can God exercise both justice and mercy in relation to the same subjects of his government? If they be entirely obedient, justice gives them the rewards of righteousness. If they transgress, justice consigns them to the threatened penalty. In either case there is no mercy. The holy and the rebellious angels are both under the influence of the justice of God.
When the Creator saw human nature, the workmanship of his hand, despoiled of its moral excellence, he was disposed to shew mercy, to bestow favor. But how this could be done consistently with the claims of justice, and with the validity of the divine law, could not, probably, be discovered by the greatest efforts of created intelligence. If pardon were conferred upon every transgressor, without any consideration, the law would have no force; it would impose no restraint; it would be merely advisory, but not authoritative. Subjects would yield to every impulse of their base passions, having no ground to fear any pernicious consequences. If part were pardoned without any consideration, it would proportionately diminish the force of the divine law. Every one would hope that he might belong to the favored number, and much restraint from transgression would be taken off. In either case sin would not appear very heinous; nor would it appear to be very offensive to God. The divine government would not appear with great majesty in the sight of men. Sin would abound much more than it does at present; and this would not be calculated to prepare subjects for the holy services and enjoyments of the heavenly state.
If God should forgive sinners on the ground of their suffering a certain term of punishment, it would be on the principle of justice or mercy. If it were on the principle of justice, it would follow that as sin deserved but a limited punishment, it was a finite evil. This view of it would comparatively diminish its guilt, and it would diminish the dignity of the divine character and government, against which it was committed. If God should abate his threatened punishment, either in degree, or in duration, on the ground of mercy, he would manifest, comparatively, less abhorrence of sin; he would diminish the dignity of his character and the efficacy of his law and authority. If sin be an infinite evil and deserves a proportionate punishment, a point in duration will never arrive, in which the transgressor can claim exemption from further suffering.
By some it is maintained that repentance is the ground, on which pardon is bestowed upon the guilty. It is admitted, that under the present economy of divine government, sin is forgiven on the condition of the repentance of the transgressor. But repentance is not the procuring cause of his forgiveness. The divine law requires perfect obedience; and it declares that "cursed is every one, who continueth not in all things, which are written in the book of the law to do them." It makes no abatement of its requisitions; and it makes no provision for exemption from its penalty on any condition whatever. If a transgressor repents, his act of penitence comes not within its scope. Sorrow for sin makes no satisfaction to the violated law. It makes no remuneration to the one offended, or injured. Were transgressors pardoned solely on the ground of their repentance, the requisitions of the law would be diminished; its authority and efficacy would be weakened, and proportionate encouragement would be given to transgression. But it has been maintained that it might be reasonably expected that God would forgive on the ground of
repentance; and that this has been a prevailing sentiment of the nations of the earth. But this is not fact. This conclusion would not be made from any analogy whatever. The civil law does not grant pardon to a culprit in consequence of his repentance. It requires that the penalty be inflicted; so that no one should be encouraged to transgress. If a man be injured by his fellow creature in his person, property or character, will he be satisfied merely with the repentance of the offender? Will he not require an equivalent for the damages, which he has sustained? A restitution of property unjustly taken, and eye for eye, tooth for tooth, and blood for blood, were part of the divine law, which was established on principles of strict justice. Remuneration for injuries, when it is practicable has always been considered a prerequisite for acceptance of repentance. As mankind could make no recompense to the divine Sovereign for the offences they had offered him, they could not infer that their repentance would secure them the forgiveness of their God. It is a well known fact, that heathen nations generally, if not universally, have adopted the expedient of sacrifices to appease their offended deities; which they would not have done, had they believed that repentance only would have rendered them propitious. The more dear to them were the victims, which they offered, the more pleasing, they imagined, would be their sacrifices to their incensed deities. From this arose the practice of offering human victims. Some offered the fruit of their bodies for the sins of their souls. Whether the practice of sacrifice was an invention of the human mind in the darkness of paganism, or whether it was handed down by tradition from the first ages, it is certain, that mankind generally have embraced the sentiment, that something beside repentance was necessary to make satisfaction for sin.
Nothing occurs under the Providence of God, which warrants a belief that repentance will be followed by
forgiveness. But we witness many things, which would naturally lead us to a different conclusion. "For when men ruin their fortunes by extravagance, or their health by excess in sensual indulgences, it is well known that repentance alone doth not remove these evil consequences of their follies and excesses. Wherefore, if in the present life, repentance is never found of itself to remove the temporal evil consequences, which God hath connected with vice; also, if men themselves being judges, repentance ought not to prevent the punishment of crimes injurious to society, what reason hath any person, from the constitution of things, to expect that repentance of itself will prevent those penal consequences, which God may have thought fit to annex to vice in the life to come. Much more, what reason hath any one, from the present constitution of things, to expect that repentance and reformation will put the sinner into the condition, he would have been in, if he had always preserved his innocence."*
It appears evident that a transgressor cannot do any thing, which will make satisfaction to the divine law, but suffering its penalty. If he repent and reform, and from the present time render a perfect obedience to the divine precepts, he does nothing to cancel the demands, which stand against him for past transgression. Present obedience is but present duty. It cannot have a retrospective influence. If one, for any given time, could do more than his duty for that time, he might acquire a surplus of righteousness, which would counterbalance transgressions, and supply past deficiencies. But this method is alike contrarient to reason and to revelation. It requires no arguments to prove that if a transgressor cannot save himself from the penal consequences of sin, he cannot save others. Should a created being, of any grade whatever on the scale of creation undertake in his behalf, what would be the consequence? However