« PreviousContinue »
II. That the atonement of Christ is the sole ground of forgiveness; and,
III. That all other blessings come to mankind merely in consequence of Christ's atonement.
I. Let us consider what is to be understood by God's forgiving, pardoning, or justifying believers. I use all these terms as synonymous; because to forgive, to pardon, and to justify believers, are phrases which the inspired writers use to signify the same thing. Accordingly, I shall use each of these terms in the same sense, in the present discourse. Sin is the transgression of the law, and the wages of sin is death. Believers as well as others have transgressed the law, and deserved the eternal death which it threatens to every transgressor. By God's forgiving them, therefore, we are to understand his pardoning, or not punishing, their iniquities; or his remitting, or not inflicting, the penalty of the law upon them. This is the strict and proper meaning of forgiveness, which, when complete, implies an entire removal of all the penal evils that the transgressor has incurred. When Pharaoh forgave his chief butler, he removed all the penal evils of his offence, and restored him to his former office. But there may be a partial forgiveness of an offence, without removing all the penal evils of it. A privy counsellor may prove unfaithful, and deserve to die; but the king may partially forgive him, and only displace and disgrace him. In forgiving, or justifying believers, God removes the condemnation of the law, and restores them to his forfeited favor. Christ says,
“ He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation ; but is passed from death unto life.” And the apostle says,
6. There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus,” by a sentence of justification. After believers are forgiven, or justified, it is consistent for God to exercise not only the love of benevolence, but the love of complacency towards them, and to express his complacency by peculiar marks of his favor. They stand as fair for every token of divine approbation, as if they had never sinned. God declares that he loves them that love him, and if he loves them, he may express his love to them in whatever way he pleases. The pardon and forgiveness of believers is properly called justification, because it places them in a condition in which God may treat them as though they were and always had been perfectly innocent. I now proceed to show,
II. That God forgives, or justifies believers, entirely through the redemption or atonement of Christ. By redemption through the blood of Christ, the apostle evidently means the same as the atonement which he made by his sufferings and death on the
cross. And we find that the other inspired writers of the New Testament use the words ransom, redemption, and propitiation, to signify the same as atonement. Believers are by nature children of wrath, even as others. They have broken the law of God, which threatens eternal death or everlasting punishment for the least transgression. This law knows no mercy nor forgiveness to the guilty, but lays God under moral obligations to punish them, unless something be done to make atonement for their sins. But nothing can make atonement for their sins, which does not express the same vindictive justice of God, which he expresses in the penalty of his law. This, sinners never could do for themselves by repentance, reformation, or works of supererogation. There was but one person in the universe who could make atonement for sin, and that was the Lord Jesus Christ; and he could do it no otherwise than by shedding his blood on the cross. It was solely by sacrificing his own life, or dying the just for the unjust, that he made such a propitiation, redemption, or atonement for sinners, upon the ground of which God can, consistently with the honor of his character and support of his government, forgive and save them from the wrath io
And upon this ground alone the scripture every where represents him
as forgiving or justifying believers. The apostle in the text ascribes forgiveness solely to the atonement of Christ; " In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins." He expresses the same idea in the same language, in Ephesians, i. 7. “In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace.” In the conclusion of the fourth chapter he says,
ye kind one to another, tender hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you.” He states this doctrine more clearly and fully in the third chapter of Romans. “ Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law; that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight." " But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all, and upon all them that believe; for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; being justified freely by his grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus; whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins — to declare, at this time his righteousness; that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.” Paul taught the same doctrine in his discourse at Antioch. “Be it
known unto you, therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins; and by him all that believe are justified from all things from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses." Here forgiveness signifies the same as justification, and justification signifies the same as pardon, which believers receive entirely on account of Christ's atonement. Peter said to Cornelius and to those who were convened at his house, “ We are witnesses of all things which Christ did both in the land of the Jews, and in Jerusalem; whom they slew, and hanged on a tree. Him God raised up the third day, and showed him openly, not to all the people, but unto witnesses chosen before of God, even to us, who did eat and drink with him after he rose from the dead. And he commanded us to preach unto the people, and to testify that it is he who was ordained of God to be the judge of quick and dead. To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name, whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.” Christ himself taught this doctrine in the twenty-fourth of Luke. He said to his disciples just before he ascended to heaven, “ These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the Psalms concerning me. Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures, and said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behooved 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.' When those who were pricked in their heart on the day of Pentecost, " said unto Peter, and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? Then Peter said unto them, repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins." Zacharias said at John's circumcision, “ And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest; for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord, to prepare his way; to give knowledge of salvation unto his people, by the remission of sins.” And agreeably to this prediction we read, Mark i. 4: “ John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance, for the remission of sins.” I have mentioned all these passages of scripture to show that God does pardon, or forgive, or justify, believers entirely through the redemption or atonement of Christ, and on no other ground. It only remains
, to inquire,
III. Whether he does not bestow all other blessings on mankind merely in consequence of Christ's atonement. The texts which have been cited to prove that God grants forgiveness to believers solely on account of the atonement of Christ, seem to prove, or at least to imply, that he bestows other favors merely in consequence of his atonement. But there is no occasion for insisting on this argument, for we have others sufficient to establish the point beyond all reasonable doubt.
1. It is an undeniable fact that God does bestow innumerable favors upon believers themselves, before they are interested in Christ by faith ; and of course before they can be forgiven or justified on his account. He gives them food and raiment, and supplies their wants, while they are in a state of nature; and not only so, but he gives them the offers of salvation, and takes away their stony heart and gives them an heart of flesh, while they are under the condemnation of his holy law. These great and invaluable favors he bestows upon them before they are united to Christ, and before they can be forgiven or justified through his atoning blood. They must therefore be bestowed merely in consequence of it. And if God can bestow any other favor, except forgiveness, upon believers before they are justified through the atonement of Christ, then after they are justified through his atonement, he can bestow any other favor upon them, except forgiveness, merely in consequence of it. These inferences are plain and undeniable, because they are drawn from a plain and undeniable fact.
2. It is a plain and undeniable fact that God bestows ten thousand favors upon the non-elect, who never have been and never will be forgiven or justified through the redemption of Christ. The children of Israel who perished in the wilderness were highly favored. God carried them through the Red Sea, fed them with bread from heaven, and supplied their wants for many years; but they abused these and all other favors. They were shut out of both the earthly and heavenly Canaan. They were never forgiven or justified through the blood of that atonement which their sacrifices typified. And from this we must conclude that they received all their blessings, not on the ground, but only in consequence of the blood which Christ shed on the cross.
3. It is agreeable to the dictates of reason and scripture to suppose, that God may act as a sovereign in bestowing any favors upon mankind, except forgiveness. This favor he cannot bestow in a way of sovereignty, because the rectitude of his government, and the beauty of his vindictive justice, must be displayed in forgiving the transgressors of his law. If he could have consistently forgiven sinners without an atonement, in a way of sovereignty, he might have saved all the human race in this plain and easy way. Why then did he not adopt this plan of salvation? He has not adopted it, and no reason can be given why he has not adopted it, but because he knew
that nothing but an atonement for sin could render it consistent with his vindictive justice to forgive the transgressors of his just and holy law. Accordingly, he gave his only begotten and dearly beloved Son, to suffer and die on the cross in the room of sinners; by which he has displayed his vindictive justice as clearly, as he could have done by actually inflicting the penalty of his law upon the whole human race. So that he can now be just in justifying all penitent believers, through the vicarious death and sufferings of the Divine Redeemer. This plan of redemption has rendered it consistent for God to grant forgiveness to all true believers through the blood of Christ, and to grant any other favor to them, and to the rest of mankind, as an act of mere sovereign goodness. Thus it appears that God can and does bestow innumerable blessings upon both believers and unbelievers, not on the ground, but only in consequence, of the atonement of Christ.
Though we feel satisfied that we have established this important point, yet, since “ an opinion has gone forth” that we have not established it, there seems to be a propriety in saying something to weaken, if not to destroy, the influence of that vagrant opinion, which has appeared in the shape of a formidable objection. Though the objector concedes “that it is no part of his system that Christ obeyed in our room to supersede the necessity of our obedience, as he suffered in our room to supersede the necessity of our sufferings ;” and though he still farther concedes, “ that we are not rewarded for two things at once, (Christ's obedience and our own) but rather that two persons in different senses are rewarded for the same thing;' yet he insists, that we are rewarded and receive every blessing, whether temporal, spiritual, or eternal, on account of Christ's righteousness, in distinction from his atonement.
He says we have no righteousness of our own which satisfies the demands of the law, and therefore we have no righteousness which God can approve and reward, only through the legal reward of Christ's perfect righteousness. "But who ever heard of a legal reward before? It is a solecism.
It is a solecism. No law, human or divine, ever promises a reward to those who obey it. The governor may offer a large reward to any man who shall apprehend a robber; but this offer is no law, because it has no precept, nor penalty. It does not command any man to go after and apprehend the culprit, nor threaten to punish him if he neglect it. He is liable only to the loss of the reward, which is no punishment at all. And it is equally true that no divine law promises a reward to the obedient. God did not promise to reward Adam, if he should perfectly obey the law of Paradise. It is true, there may be a federal reward, or a reward promised to VOL. V.