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NECESSITY OF CHRIST'S ATONEMENT,
The remarks at the conclusion of last section, on the objection that an atonement is unnecessary, are merely negative. They are designed to prove only that it cannot be shown to be unnecessary, without going the length of positively maintaining its necessity. We now advance a step higher, and shall endeavour to show that the atonement of Christ is necessary.
It cannot surely be requisite here to do more than remind the reader of the sense in which the term necessity is used. It is employed, not in an absolute, but relative sense. It is not supposed that the Deity was obliged, either by the perfections of his nature, or by the claims of his creatures, to furnish an atonement in order to the pardon of sin. There was nothing in his own character that rendered it absolutely imperative to take any steps whatever toward the remission of iniquity; such a supposition goes to divest him entirely of grace or sovereignty in the exercise of forgiveness. Neither was it possible that the offenders against his moral government could, by ány thing they were capable of performing, lay him under an obligation to furnish them with a legal ground of deliverance from sin; this goes to invest a guilty creature with the power of controlling the divine Lawgiver, as well as to deprive the glorious provision of infinite mercy for the salvation of man of all claims to the character of free unmerited favour. The necessity of which we speak is not of this nature. It is a relative necessity that is affirmed with respect to Christ's atonement, a necessity springing from God's antecedent purpose to save sinners from the wrath to come, arising solely out of his own free purpose, determination, or promise. Having resolved that sin shall be pardoned, it becomes necessary that an atonement shall be made. The necessity, in one word, is not natural, but moral.
The moral necessity of an atonement supposes three things, all of which are understood as distinctly admitted in the subsequent reasoning. It supposes that man is a moral creature, the subject of a holy, just, and righteous law, which attaches eternal
punishment to the violation of it :-It supposes that man has broken this law and become obnoxious to the punishment threatened:
-It supposes, in fine, that God has determined to deliver some at least of such violators from the legal consequences of their transgression. These assumptions, it will not be expected, we should wait to prove. They are all understood as admitted by those with whom we are contending, and no advantage is taken of our opponents, when they are taken for granted. The first is in
volved in man's nature as a moral being: the second rests on the broad undeniable fact of the fall: the third is supposed in all reasoning about salvation. Let these admissions, then, be kept distinctly in view let it be understood that God has determined to save guilty men from the punishment due to their sins; and we ask no more as a basis on which to construct our proof of the necessity of Christ's atonement.
I. The perfections of God rendered an atonement necessary to the remission of sin.
This might be argued even from the honour or majesty of God. His dignity as Creator of the ends of the earth, Preserver of man and beast, Lord of heaven and earth, and Lawgiver of the moral universe, is unspeakably great; it is infinite. Sin is a dishonour done to this great Lord God; a direct insult offered to the majesty of the skies; and, if pardoned without satisfaction, it is as much as to say that God may be insulted with impunity; that to offer the highest affront to the Great Supreme, to bid open defiance to infinite excellency, exposes to no hazard, involves no forfeiture of safety. What is this, but to unhinge the whole moral constitution of things, and to hold out a temptation to universal revolt? For if God may be insulted with impunity once,
may be oftener, it may be at all times; there can never be any infallible inducement to honour him; but license is proclaimed to all to treat him with sovereign and perpetual contempt. If such revolting consequences as these are to be reprobated and rejected with abhorrence, as they must be by all who have any remains of a moral sense, it follows, that, to the pardon of every sin, satisfaction must be given to the insulted majesty of God by an atonement.
The truth of Deity does not less imperatively call for such a provision. He is a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he. He is abundantin goodness and truth. The strength of Israel will not lie. He is a God that cannot lie. Now, let what God has spoken with regard to sin be here remembered. He has said — Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things that are written in the law to do them—the soul that sinneth it shall die-the wages of sin is death—woe unto the wicked, it shall be ill with him--the Lord will by no means clear the guilty. These are the true sayings of God. His veracity and faithfulness require that they be fulfilled. But if sin is pardoned without a satisfaction, fulfilled they are not ;—the violation of the law is not cursed; death is not the wages of sin; it is not ill with the wicked; God does clear the guilty! And what is this but to impeach the truth of God—to make God a liar? Nor is there any way of reconciling such expressions with the fact of man's forgiveness, but by referring to him who was made a curse for us, who 'tasted death for every one' of the redeemed, and whose substitutionary satisfaction is rendered necessary by the faithfulness of God to his own word.
1 Deut, xxxii. 4. Exod. xxxiv, 6. 1 Sam, xv. 29. Tit. i. 2. 2 Gal. iii. 10. Ezek. xviij. 4. Rom. vi. 23. Is. iii. 11. Exod. xxxiv. 7.
More distinctly still, if possible, does this necessity appear from the divine holiness. The Lord our God is holy. He is free from every vestige of moral pollution; he delights in whatever is pure; he hates whatever is of an opposite character. Now, sin is opposed to the holiness of God; it is essentially impure, filthy, abominable. It follows that it is the object of his supreme detestation; he is of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on iniquity. But how can this be made to appear, without the punishment of sin ? It is not enough that a penalty be annexed to transgression, that a threat be appended to the violation of his law; if the penalty is not inflicted, if the threat is not executed, there is still room left to suppose that sin is not the abominable thing that was supposed; the blasphemous thought may nevertheless spring up in the bosom of moral creatures, that God, after all, approves of sin, and secretly connives at the commission of it. To vindicate the holiness of the divine character, the penalty annexed to disobedience must be executed. But its being executed on the transgressor is incompatible with the transgressor's being forgiven. To the pardon of sin, then, consistently with the purity of God, the punishment must fall on the sinner's substitute. In other words, the divine holiness proclaims the necessity of Christ's atonement. Thus, and thus alone, can the sinner be saved without sin being palliated, or the perfect moral purity of the Holy One being sullied.
To these add the requirements of divine justice.