« PreviousContinue »
lation. It is not, it cannot be, derived from any inferior source. How striking soever the proclamations of nature may be, with respect to the wisdom, power, and goodness of the Creator, they do not impart the slightest intimation that is calculated to awaken hope in the bosom of the guilty. Amidst all the flights of genius, or profundity of research, which distinguish the writings of the heathen poets or sages, there is not to be found in them a single trace of information relative to this momentous subject. The convinced sinner would in vain examine them with the expectation of obtaining suitable advice: in vain would he look into them for a ray of heavenly wisdom to illuminate the midnight which hangs over his soul. Bewildered and confounded in every step of his 'inquiry, he would quit these cheerless wilds of speculation, and exclaim in hopeless anguish, “Wherewith shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the high God ?" This is the extremity in which the gospel meets the desponding sinner, and opens before him the prospect of forgiveness and eternal life.
It is impossible, while contemplating the expulsion of the first human offenders from the bliss of Eden, not to admire the pity and condescension of God, in permitting them to cherish the hope of pardon, immediately after
the great transgression. This cheering doctrine, which was first announced by Jehovah himself, and illustrated by the institution of sacrifices, became in succeeding ages the favourite theme of the inspired penmen, who all united in reiterating that Divine proclamation which Moses has recorded with peculiar solemnity;—“The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity, and transgression, and sin.”
Every one, however, who has bestowed due attention on the subject, will admit, that it behoved the Supreme Being, in taking sinful creatures into his favour, to pardon their sins in such a manner, and by such means, as should effectually secure the honour of his government; or, in other language, display his holiness and equity, with no less glory than his compassion and benevolence. This important sentiment was evidently exhibited in the institution of sacrificial offerings; if it were not, the greater part of the ceremonial dispensation appears to me utterly inexplicable.
Sacrifices, as you well know, constituted the most prominent feature of that dispensation. In this particular it agreed with the patriarchal dispensation which preceded it. That the sacrifices under both dispensations were, for the most part, regarded as expiatory, (or rather as typical of an efficient atonement,) cannot, I think, be questioned by any man who reads the Scriptures with an unprejudiced mind. It will not avail, in opposing this view of them, to say, that they were merely expressive of a high degree of devotional fervour, or that they implied only the offerer's desire of consecrating all that he possessed to God; such assertions are contrary to the history of those Divine appointments. The paschal lamb, the whole burnt-offering, and the great annual sacrifice, appear to have been contemplated by the great body of Hebrew worshippers as relating to the atonement of sin. The manner in which the offerings were presented, the confessions which were made over the heads of the devoted yictims, together with the ceremonies which were subsequently performed by the high priest on the day of expiation, are all irrefragable proofs of the correctness of this statement. But this is not more obvious than the total inefficacy of the sacrifices to which we allude. “ It is not possible,” says an Apostle, “ that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sin.” The history of the people for whose instruction the blood of those creatures so copiously flowed, speaks the same language; and reason itself approves the sentiment; for what proportion is
there between the sacrifice of a beast and the demerit of an intelligent agent; between the agonies of an irrational creature and that punishment which the sinner deserves from the hand of his offended Judge!
If it be admitted that the Levitical sacrifices were in some sense expiatory, or designed to impress the minds of the offerers with the
expediency of an atonement; and if, at the same time, it be acknowledged that those sacrifices were utterly inefficacious, we must conclude that they were merely emblematical of a real atonement. That St. Paul understood them in this light, cannot be denied. He expressly affirms, that “ the law was a shadow of good things to come;"—that those good things were included in the mediation of Christ; - that Christ, in assuming our nature, had particular reference to the insufficiency of the sacrificial rites, and in that act announced their abolition; --that, by his death, he was “the End,” or Substance“ of the law;”--that “he became sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him;" and that, while the legal offerings failed to produce any salutary effect on the minds of those who presented them, the blood of Christ purified the conscience from dead works, procured and conveyed forgiveness to every believer, effected a reconciliation
between God and sinners, and inspired those who might have been justly condemned, with peace and joy in believing.
Before I quit this branch of the subject, permit me to inquire, What mode of expression could the inspired penman have adopted to convey to us more forcibly the idea which I wish to establish? Can those persons who deny the expiation of Christ suggest any forms of language by which that doctrine could be placed in a clearer and more imposing light than that in which the writings of this Apostle place it?
Besides, if the death of Christ be not considered as an atoning sacrifice; -- if it be not regarded as the grand channel through which forgiveness is bestowed; it would, I conceive, be difficult to show with what propriety any comparison can be instituted between that wonderful event and the Levitical sacrifices; or how the design of God, in the appointment of those sacrifices, could, in any rational manner, be accomplished by Christ; or why, after their appointment, they should be abolished; or what harmony can subsist between the Mosaic and Christian dispensations; or how the former can be said to have introduced the latter, since their principal features must have been altogether dissimilar and contradictory; or how the latter can be said to excel the former in glory,