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11. Whatever will as fully evince the regard of the lawgiver to his law-his determination to support it-his abhorrence of all violations of its precepts-and withal guard as effectually against the inference that violators of the precept might expect to escape with impunity, as the execution of the penalty would do, is a full satisfaction of public justice. When these conditions are fulfilled, and the sinner has returned to obedience, public justice not only admits, but absolutely demands that the penalty shall be set aside by extending pardon to the offender. The offender still deserves to be punished, and upon the principles of distributive justice, might be punished according to his deserts. But the public good admits and requires that upon the above conditions he should live, and hence, public justice, in compliance with the public interests and the spirit of the law of love, spares and pardons him.
12. If mercy or pardon is to be extended to any who have violated law, it ought to be done in a manner and upon conditions that will settle the question and establish the truth that the execution of penalties is not to be dispensed with merely upon condition of the repentance of the offender. In other words, if pardon is to be extended, it should be known to be upon a condition not within the power of the offender. Else he may know that he can violate the law and yet be sure to escape with impunity by fulfilling the conditions of forgiveness, which are, upon the supposition, all within his own
13. So, if mercy is to be exercised, it should be upon a condition that is not to be repeated. The thing required by public justice is that nothing shall be done to undermine or disturb the influence of law. Hence it can not consent to have the execution of penalties dispensed with upon any condition that shall encourage the hope of impunity. Therefore, public justice can not consent to the pardon of sin but upon condition of an atonement, and also upon the assumption that atonement is not to be repeated, nor to extend its benefits beyond the limits of the race for whom it was made, and that only for a limited time. If an atonement were to extend its benefits to all worlds and to all eternity, it would nullify its own influence and encourage the universal hope of impunity in case the precepts of the law were violated. This would be indefinitely worse than no atonement; and public justice might as well consent to have mercy exercised without any regard to securing the authority and influence of law.
14. The spirit of the moral law can no more be dispensed
with by the law giver than it can be repealed. The spirit of the law requires that when the precept is violated the penalty shall be executed or that something shall be done that will as effectually and impressively negative the inference or assumption that sin can escape with impunity under the government of God, beyond the limits of the race for whom the atonement was especially made, as the execution of the law would do. It is easy to see that the following things must be true under a perfect government, as has been said above.
(1.) That sin can not be forgiven merely upon condition of repentance; for this condition is within the power of the subject, so that he might be sure of impunity.
(2.) Nor can it be forgiven upon a condition that shall be repeated, for this would encourage the hope of impunity.
(3.) Nor can it be forgiven upon a condition that will extend to all worlds and throughout all eternity, for this would be equivalent to forgiving sin merely upon condition of repentance without any reference to the authority of law or to public_justice.
II. Define the term Atonement.
The English word Atonement is synonymous with the Hebrew word Cofer. This is a noun from the verb caufar, to cover. The cofer or cover, was the name of the lid or cover of the ark of the covenant, and constituted what was called the mercy seat. The Greek word rendered Atonement is katallage. This means reconciliation to favor, or more strictly, the means or conditions of reconciliation to favor; from katallasso, to change, or exchange. The term properly means substitution. An examination of these original words, in the connection in which they stand, will show that the Atonement is the governmental substitution of the sufferings of Christ for the sufferings of sinners. It is a covering of their sins, by his sufferings.
III. I am to inquire into the teachings of natural theology, or into the a priori affirmations of reason upon this subject.
1. The doctrine of atonement has been regarded as so purely a doctrine of revelation as to preclude the supposition that reason could, a priori, make any affirmations about it. It has been generally regarded as lying absolutely without the pale of natural theology in so high a sense that aside from revelation no assumption could be made nor even a reasonable conjecture indulged. But there are certain facts in this world's history that render this assumption exceedingly doubtful. It is true indeed that natural theology could not
ascertain and establish the fact that an atonement had been made, or that it certainly would be made; but if I am not mistaken, it might have been reasonably inferred, the true character of God being known and assumed, that an atonement of some kind would be made to render it consistent with his relations to the universe to extend mercy to the guilty inhabitants of this world. The manifest necessity of a divine revelation has been supposed to afford a strong presumptive argument that such a revelation has been or will be made. From the benevolence of God as manifested in his works and providence it has been, as I suppose, justly inferred that he would make arrangements to secure the holiness and salvation of men, and as a condition of this result that he would grant them a further revelation of his will than had been given in creation and providence. The argument stands thus:
(1.) From consciousness and observation we know that this is not a state of retribution; and from all the facts in the case that lie open to observation, this is evidently a state of trial or probation.
(2.) The providence of God in this world is manifestly disciplinary and designed to reform mankind.
(3.) These facts taken in connection with the great ignor ance and darkness of the human mind on moral and religious subjects afford a strong presumption that the benevolent Creator will make to the inhabitants of this world who are so evidently yet in a state of trial, a further revelation of his will.
Now if this argument is good, so far as it goes, I see not why we may not reasonably go still further.
Since the above are facts, and since it is also a fact that when the subject is duly considered (and the more thoroughly the better) there is manifestly a great difficulty in the exercise of mercy without satisfaction being made to publish justice, and since the benevolence of God would not allow him on the one hand to pardon sin at the expense of public justice, or on the other to punish or execute the penalty of law if it could be wisely and consistently avoided, these facts being understood and admitted, it might naturally have been inferred that the wisdom and benevolence of God would devise and execute a method of meeting the demands of public justice that should render the forgiveness of sin possible. That the philosophy of government would render this possible is to us manifest. I know indeed that with the light the gospel has afforded us, we much more clearly discern this than they could who had no other light than that of nature. Whatever
might have been known to the ancients and those who have not the bible, I think that when the facts are announced by revelation, we can see that such a governmental expedient was not only possible, but just what might have been expected of the benevolence of God. It would of course have been impossible for us, a priori, to have devised or reasonably conjectured the plan that has been adopted. So little was known or knowable on the subject of the trinity of God without revelation that natural theology could perhaps in its best estate have taught nothing farther than that if it was possible, some governmental expedient would be resorted to and was in contemplation, for the ultimate restoration of the sinning race who were evidently spared hitherto from the execution of law and placed under a system of discipline.
But since the gospel has announced the fact of the atonement, it appears that natural theology or governmental philosophy can satisfactorily explain it; that reason can discern a divine philosophy in it.
Natural theology can teach,
1. That human nature is in a fallen state, and that the law of selfishness, and not the law of benevolence, is that to which unreformed men conform their lives.
2. It can teach that God is benevolent, and hence that mercy must be an attribute of God.
3. Consequently that no atonement was needed to satisfy any implacable spirit in the divine mind; that he was sufficiently and infinitely disposed to extend pardon to the penitent, if this could be wisely and safely done.
4. It can also abundantly teach that there is a real and a great difficulty and danger in the exercise of mercy under a moral government, and supremely great under a government so vast and so enduring as the government of God; that under such a government the danger is very great that the exercise of mercy will be understood as encouraging the hope of impunity in the commission of sin.
5. It can also show the indispensable necessity of such an administration of the Divine government as to secure the fullest confidence throughout the universe in the sincerity of God in promulging his law with its tremendous penalty, and of his unalterable adherence to its spirit and determination not to falter in carrying out and securing its authority at all events. That this is indispensable to the well being of the universe, is entirely manifest.
6. Hence it is very obvious to natural theology, that sin can
not be pardoned without something is done to forbid the otherwise natural inference that sin will be forgiven under the government of God upon condition of repentance alone and of course upon a condition within the power of the sinner himself. It must be manifest that to proclaim throughout the universe that sin would be pardoned universally upon condition of repentance alone, would be a virtual repeal of the Divine law. All creatures would instantly perceive that no one need to fear punishment in any case as his forgiveness was secure, however much he might trample on the Divine authority, alone upon a condition which he could at will perform.
7. Natural theology is abundantly competent to show that God could not be just to his own intelligence, just to his character, and hence just to the universe in dispensing with the execution of the Divine law except upon the condition of providing a substitute of such a nature as to as fully reveal and as deeply impress the lessons that would be taught by the execution as the execution itself would do. The great design of penalties is prevention, and this is of course the design of executing penalties. The head of any government is pledged to sustain the authority of law by a due administration of rewards and punishments, and has no right in any instance to extend pardon except upon conditions that will as effectually support the authority of law as the execution would do. It was never found to be safe, or even possible under any government to make the universal offer of pardon to violators of law upon the bare condition of repentance for the very obvious reason already suggested, that it would be a virtual repeal of all law. Public justice, by which every executive magistrate in the universe is bound, sternly and peremptorily forbids that mercy shall be extended to any culprit without some equivalent being rendered to the government, that is, without something being done that will fully answer as a substitute for the execution of penalties. This principle God fully admits to be binding upon him, and hence He affirms that he gave his son to justify or to render it just in him to forgive sin. Rom. 3: 24-26; "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 that are past, through the forbearance of God; to declare, I say, at this time his righteousness; that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus."
8. All nations have felt the necessity of expiatory sacrifices.