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supposing it were so, we mean to say that the objection before us supposes an unwarrantable overleaping of the bounds of the human understanding.
3. The objection, too, supposes a most imperfect and restricted view of the nature of man's offence against God.
Inadequate views of sin are at the foundation of almost all the doctrinal and practical errors that exist in the world. Men are ready to regard it as something altogether different from what it is regarded by God. A thousand palliatives and excuses they can easily conceive for the commission of it, and, after it has been committed, they can talk of it in language which too plainly indicates the imperfection of their views. If sin were a mere insult offered to majesty, it might be overlooked, for dignity is often more consulted by passing by an offence, than by rigorously demanding satisfaction for every slight that is offered to it. If sin were a mere debt, it might have been remitted, as a creditor may, without any impropriety, suffer his debtor to go free. If sin were merely a thing to be abhorred, it might have been pardoned, simply on the person's showing, by his repentance, a disposition to abhor it. But it is something more than all this. It is the violation of a holy, just, and good law, an infraction of a moral constitution, in the maintenance of which the honour of God and the good of all his moral subjects are concerned. This alters the case materially, and renders it necessary, as we shall afterwards see, that steps be taken which would not otherwise have been required.
4. The objection, we shall only add, proceeds on a most imperfect view of the nature of human salvation.
Admitting that God might honourably pardon sin without a satisfaction, it should be remembered that the remission of sin is not the whole of salvation. The penal inflictions due to sin may be supposed to be remitted without the soul being saved. The salvation of the soul supposes deliverance from other evils, and the possession of other qualities, to which, after all, the virtue of an atoning sacrifice may be indispensable. · Were we even to concede,' says Dr Smith, with much acuteness and force, that the Deity could remit the positive punishment of sin, by a determination of his gracious will ; yet this would not effect the salvation of the sinner. This measure of gracious will (the supposition of which, however, I by no means think tenable) would be merely the forbearing from certain positive acts of righteous power, merely waiving a right, merely declining to effectuate that which, speaking analogically, as the scriptures so often do, would be an insulated act in the procedure of the blessed God, alien from the ordinary tendency and character of his government, and which he would not execute without the greatest reluctance, his strange work.' But under a very different respect, in moral consideration, would come the arbitrary taking away of the natural and necessary consequences of sin.
These are not inflictions, but they are events and states of things which follow of themselves, according to the general constitutions of the universe, the laws of intellectual and moral nature; constitutions and laws which are essential to the harmony and wellbeing of God's entire world. To intercept this course of things, which infinite wisdom and goodness have established, to prevent these effects from ensuing, when their proper causes have already occurred, is not a case of forbearing to act; it is the exact reverse, it is a case of acting. It would be an interference of the Deity to suspend the operation of his own laws, to cut off the connexion between the cause and the effect, to change the course of nature; it would be to work a miracle.' 19
We have thus endeavoured to state with fairness, and to examine with candour, the principal objections to the doctrine under review. If they have been, as we hope, satisfactorily refuted, an additional and important step of advancement has been made. We now not only see what atonement means, but are convinced that there exists no antecedent improbability that such an expedient should be introduced into the moral economy of God. No such antecedent improbability can be urged, either on the ground of reason, or of the divine character, or of the nature of salvation. We cannot, therefore, but bewail that deep depravity of man's understanding and will, which is manifested in his failing to perceive, or, perceiving it, refusing to admit the doctrine before us. Great indeed are the pride and presumption of human reason, which starts its little cavils against the great truths of revelation. We have need to be on our guard against the influence of objections which spring from a state of moral corruption common to all. Let us distrust ourselves, and, while we pity such as are led astray by gross and fatal errors, let us seek to enjoy the promised guidance of Him whose prerogative it is to lead into all truth. It belongs to God to bring good out of evil; and, although the existence of objections to divine truth is in itself to be deplored, the goodness and wisdom can never be too much admired which render this very evil a means of ultimate good. By leading to investigate the truth with greater care, by tending to quicken the understanding, by rousing to a more zealous defence of what is valuable, by producing stronger attachment to that for which we have had as it were to fight, and by inducing a firmer confidence in the truth itself as having stood the trial of the most searching scrutiny, the objections themselves may be turned to a profitable account. And how truly thankful ought those to be, who have been kept from error and established in the truth as it is in Jesus. If those who have escaped the temptations of the world through lust have reason to be grateful, those who have escaped the temptations of error through the prevalence of heretical opinion, have no less cause of gratitude. That mental error is safe and innocent, is much the same as saying that truth is a thing of no value; and neither the one sentiment nor the other can be held by those who have seriously pondered the import of those awful words—that they all might be damned who believed not the truth. And if error is in any case unsafe, and truth in any case valuable, it must be in a matter of such vital importance as that now under discussion.
19 Disc, on Sac., &c., pp. 196, 197.